Society generally views athletes as physically strong and mentally tough individuals that represent the pinnacle of the human condition. The fact is, however, that athletes are just as susceptible to depression as everyone else, but their high profile lives and the stigma that still surrounds depression mean that they may be reluctant to seek the treatment they need.
Athletes suffer the same emotional stresses suffered by the ordinary man in the street but they also have to put up with the pressures of competition and the expectation of success. Their lives are geared to intense preparation for a particular event and when that is over there can be a vacuum that is hard to fill. They also usually face a short career span and have to readjust to “ordinary” life when age or injury dictates that their time in the limelight is over.
Nowadays, however, as society is gaining a greater understanding and tolerance of mental ill-health, there is an increasing realisation that athletes are not immune to illnesses like depression and more and more athletes are bringing their suffering into the open, not only to help themselves and other athletes but also to create a higher profile for the problem and to try to remove the stigma that sufferers have suffered for so long.
Rebecca Marino – tennis
Canadian-born Rebecca Marino retired from professional tennis for the second time in February this year saying that she just wants to be happy. 22 year-old Rebecca has said that she has been away from her family from the age of 16 and has admitted suffering from depression since then. She first quit tennis last year and began therapy and a course of anti-depressants.
Marcus Trescothick – cricket
Former England batsman Marcus Trescothick’s battle with depression came to light around 2006 when he abruptly returned home during the England tour of India and is thought to have been the cause of his loss of form that year. Although he had the support of other players and management, Trescothick never played international cricket again as he suffered occasional relapses but continued to play domestic cricket with great success – he attributes this to the fact that he was never far from his family. He revealed in his autobiography ‘Coming back to me’ that he had suffered anxiety attacks from the age of 10.
Dame Kelly Holmes – middle distance runner
British heroine Dame Kelly Holmes who won gold in the 800 and 1500 metres at the Athens Olympics in 2004, has admitted to self-harm in the run-up to the Games and even contemplated suicide as she feared being unable to cope with the prospect of not coming home with a medal, and has even cut herself since. She has said that people would find it hard to believe that someone as strong as her could suffer in this way.
John Kirwan – rugby
Celebrated former All Black wing John Kirwan finished his international playing career in 1994 but has remained in rugby as a coach. He has openly spoken of his struggles with depression, which he has described in his book ‘ All Blacks don’t cry’, and is now the face of a public campaign in New Zealand to highlight awareness of depression and that anyone can be affected.
These star athletes have openly admitted to suffering depression, not only for themselves, but to try to alleviate some of the misconceptions and stigma surrounding the illness. If such high profile personalities can come forward, then there should be nothing holding anyone else back from seeking depression treatment and starting the road to recovery.