All rather depressing

So the roving eye of the British public moves on.  Bored of ‘occupy’, bored of bankers and bored of arguments over who’s being racist on twitter (for the moment), it settles on the issue of depression, and depression in sport in particular.  

Gary Speed kicked it all off when he went and hung himself.  It was as shocking as it was surprising.  That day, twitter was full of the standard ‘RIP Gary’, but was also inundated with messages urging people to spread the awareness about depression.  This seemed odd; no valid reason has ever been suggested as to why Gary Speed would take his own life, and yet the twitter-ati clearly decided that it was an open and shut case, and the D word needed to get out.  This made no more sense than the average man in the street, who upon hearing about a plane crash, immediately campaigns for greater public awareness of testicular cancer.

Depression does seem to affect a large number of sportsmen, and the incidences of suicide (especially in cricket) are certainly higher than most other professions.  Marcus Trescothick’s well publicised battle with the disease is a case in point, and it’s clear that many sportsmen struggle to cope with life once their playing careers are finished.  Ex-Hull City striker Dean Windass spoke to the Guardian this week, keen to admit (possibly as catharsis) that he was ‘close to ending it all’ this week.

I’m not an expert, but the link between sportsmen and depression seems to make sense.  The weight of public expectation, the mighty highs and cavernous lows and the ‘back to earth with a bump’ that accompanies the end of one’s playing career would indeed cause some of the less robust personalities to struggle to deal with the harsh realities of ‘real’ life.  I was amazed that a colleague of mine chose to rail against this phenomena, expressing utter contempt for these sufferers and an amazement that they could be afflicted in this manner, given that they were performing in a role that many ordinary folk would give their eye-teeth to take on.  ‘Let them go and meet the maimed soldiers from Afghanistan’ she wailed, ‘then they’d know how lucky they are’.  I’m pretty sure this is not how depression works.  It would be easy to snap out of things if all one had to do was to be introduced to someone more worthy and/or more unlucky.  I’m sure that the bi-polar Stephen Fry is aware that he is a clever, successful man, and very much the nation’s favourite uncle.  This doesn’t seem to make him snap out of the medical condition with which he is afflicted.

As if to satisfy the public’s curiosity with all things depressive, and hot on the heels of Gary Speed, came Andrew Flintoff, who opened his heart on his depressive past.  Less convincing this one: his depression apparently co-incided with his only tour as England captain.  As England slumped to only their second ever 5-0 Ashes defeat, and their first for 85 years, Flintoff admitted that he had felt down and had struggled to get out of bed in the morning.  He had even started to drink too much.  None of this seemed all that surprising.  Legendary boozer Flintoff had carried on boozing.  He had also felt pretty low and gutted that his team were being comprehensively thrashed.  This isn’t a depressive episode, it’s just a bad day (or few weeks) at the office.  Miraculously, this depressive episode seemed to pass once England started playing a little better.

Fintoff’s mate Steve Harmison has now chipped in, blaming his lack of form on foreign pitches on depression.  ‘I didn’t realise it at the time, but that’s what it must have been’.  Give it a label Steve, just to make yourself feel better.

The saddest thing of all is that many people do need to change their opinion of his disease, which is misunderstood and brushed under the carpet all too often.  However, the more that celebrities trivialise depression and use it merely as a catch-all label to magic away the natural lows of their profession, the more that it will remain misunderstood.  Ironically, by bringing it into the public eye in this manner, it is likely to provide just a few minutes of pub chat, and less likely to kick-start any worthwhile debate on the issue.  

It’s all just so depressing.