Cricketer Michael Yardy hit the headlines after his decision to return home from the England squad because he was experiencing depression. Like many sportsmen before him, including fellow cricketer Marcus Trescothick, footballers Tony Adams and Neil Lennon, rugby player John Kirwan and boxer Frank Bruno, he is experiencing a mental health problem in his sporting prime.
Mental ill health does not discriminate in who it affects. One in four of us experience a mental health problem, so why should sports professionals be immune? Moreover, the psychological pressures of playing sport at the highest level are immense, with many people training from an early age to succeed. Alongside high profile players there are many others who didn’t make the grade after dedicating half their life to success, and experience the psychological consequences of rejection and failure.
A successful sports player’s life also comes with other challenges which don’t necessarily fit into the ‘good mental health at work’ handbook: long periods of time spent on the road in unfamiliar surroundings, away from loved ones; and, despite the glamour and salaries, success and failure magnified many times over as your loose shot or poor delivery is relayed across computer and TV screens around the world.
However, there are signs that many sporting bodies recognise the importance of supporting players who may experience mental health problems. Despite Geoff Boycott’s carping criticism of the selectors, the England and Wales Cricket Board have acted extremely well in their support of both Yardy and Marcus Trescothick, who won this year’s Mind Making a Difference award.
The Premier League also recognises the role it plays both in relation to players and fans. Together with Sport Relief, it is funding an innovative project called Imagine Your Goals which aims to improve mental wellbeing and tackle stigma.
The sporting media is to be congratulated too on its sensitive handling of the subject. Perhaps this was best exemplified by the coverage of German goalkeeper Robert Enke’s tragic suicide.
In the week when we have launched the biggest ever advertising campaign encouraging people to talk about mental health – It’s time to talk, it’s Time to Change – let’s hope that Michael Yardy’s bravery in facing his depression helps others to talk about it, and helps him to know that he’s not alone.
Paul Farmer, Mind Chief Executive