The reactions I get when someone I have just met discovers I am a psychiatrist vary enormously: awkwardness, embarrassment, disinterest, and sometimes morbid interest! Last night’s BBC 1 programme, ‘Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side of Sport’ gave us a rare and privileged insight into ‘the dark side’ of elite sports. ‘Every cricket team in the country has some one who is depressed’ is a true but startling statistic.
How can such a common and disabling condition be so hidden? Shame and embarrassment, loss of confidence and not wanting to let teammates down all contribute to a conspiracy of silence. Piers Morgan’s initial comments typify not just the media’s lack of understanding of depression, but the general public’s at large. How can we improve our understanding of depression in sport? Morgan places the responsibility for this firmly and squarely at the feet of those involved in sports management.
The importance of mental health and wellbeing was highlighted time and time again at the ‘Leaders in Performance’ conference at Chelsea FC in October 2011. Many admitted however that it remains the main area where sports management still has much work to do. Our work in elite sport confirms the need to continue improving public understanding of this common and disabling condition.
The courage of the elite sportsmen openly discussing their depression last night should be loudly applauded. They went a long way to championing the efforts of those working in mental health by raising the awareness of depression and overcoming the stigma. Well played gentlemen.