A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

Depression in sport needs to be tackled

Tonight at 10.45pm on BBC1 is a documentary on depression in sport. Made by Cricket star Freddie Flintoff, ‘The Hidden Side of Sport’ looks to be a hugely important piece on an increasingly worrying aspect of sporting professionalism. I wrote this article for Leeds Student Newspaper, which went to print on 2 December 2011. The feature was called ‘Last Word’.

This week the football world has been in a state of shock after Welsh manager Gary Speed was found hanged at his home early on Sunday morning.

The issue of depression in sport has returned to the fore, two years after the devastating suicide of German international goalkeeper Robert Enke.

These two tragic cases indicate that mental illness in sport must be combated, whilst the revelation that five professional footballers have requested help from the Tony Adams Sporting Chance Clinic following Speed’s death highlights the risk of further disasters.

Former footballers Stan Collymore and Neil Lennon uncovered their battles with the demons of depression after hanging up their boots, whilst cricketer Marcus Trescothick and former rugby star Brian Moore have written books about their own experiences.

Despite the topic rarely forming on the lips of pundits, fans and the majority of sports stars, it is painfully apparent that mental illness is prevalent amongst elite athletes.

The main problems confronting depression in professional sport are the existing negative attitudes and the social stigma attached to the subject.

John Gregory, former manager of Collymore at Aston Villa questioned how the striker could be depressed earning £20,000 a week, whilst more recently Joey Barton reacted to the news of Gary Speed’s death by labelling the act of suicide ‘selfish’.

These beliefs offer an insight into the harsh and hostile environment that professional sportsmen encounter when struggling with self-doubt, anxiety, stress or melancholy during their careers.

The PFA is set to distribute a 36-page document designed to beat one of football’s last taboos, whilst former England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is set to investigate depression in sport for a BBC documentary.

More initiatives like this are essential if the world of sport is going to help its stars overcome mental health suffering that for too long have been ignored or overlooked.

As the festive season draws closer, bringing with it a packed calender of sporting action, it is imperative that those who are struggling to cope in the spotlight are not abandoned.

Sporting governing bodies must act to help professionals who are suffering from mental health problems, and strive to ensure that there is not another repeat of the tragedies that have afflicted the footballing world in recent times.

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January 11, 2012 - Posted by | Sport

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