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Depression Can Knock You For Six

Anyone who plays a team sport has been there: that crucial moment where you slip over, drop a catch or stick the ball into the field rather than into an open goal. If you’re lucky there’s a pat on the back with some encouraging words, but often there are just icy stares from teammates, compounding your error. The beauty of such pursuits, though, is that the chance to make amends is never too far away. The mishap is soon forgotten when you follow your error up with a wonder try, huge six or, in my case, controlling a football within a ten yard radius. You can’t help but beam, sweat glistening on your brow, as the next chance for glory materialises.

Ultimately, we play recreational sport because it’s fun. Why else would we put up with changing rooms that haven’t seen a fresh lick of paint since rations stopped, dodge dog mess on surfaces optimistically called ‘grass’ and squeeze into kit that never truly loses last week’s stench? There are ups and downs but the joy of success, shared amongst a group of mates, provides a buzz that words can’t describe. Losing doesn’t have the same nasty edge to it amongst friends.

As a cricketer of sorts, it was a real shock when I learnt of the anxiety and depression that Marcus Trescothick had dealt with throughout his life, ultimately bringing his international career to a close. In my naivety, I wondered why this man – one of the top cricketers on the planet – could have these problems? After much reading on the subject it became apparent to me the issues he’d encountered had been replicated in my own life, albeit on a smaller scale. The penny dropped. Just like anyone can fall victim to any other illness, depression and related afflictions don’t pass someone by just because they are successful, famous or anything else.  Depression is a leveller.  It can happen to anyone.

Trescothick’s refreshingly honest autobiography not only gave me an insight into the hectic scheduling of international cricket, but also his own predicament. Despite the sombre tone of the book, I found it uplifting sharing Marcus’ relief at being able to share this with the world. Since publication in 2008 there has been a distinct increase in awareness of mental health issues in cricket. There’s an underlying acknowledgement that cricket can, unlike most other team sports, separate the individual from the collective (you bowl as one man, and whilst you may bat in a pair, you face each ball solo) and focuses the pressure accordingly. Particularly in the professional game, where so much rests on one ball or over, this burden can prove too much when placed alongside other factors that may make someone depressed, down or whatever else.

There have been huge leaps forward in recent years, but there’s still a feeling that such things hold a stigma, amongst both professional and amateur players. Many men would much rather face 16oz of leather and cork flying towards their face than share their troubles with a team mate. The game is still macho in nature – the after game drinking sessions and competitiveness don’t seem like a natural complement to chatting about worries in life. There’s a time and a place for everything and, personally, I’ve been surprised to find, both within sport and outside, how accommodating pals will be if you take a deep breath and just blurt it out.

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