Respect to PCA members Tim Ambrose and Darren Cousins for sharing their personal experiences of suffering with depression in the recent Daily Telegraph articles. Read their words quickly and it is easy to lose sight of the powerful grip that depression can have on anyone. But focus carefully on those words, “beyond miserable … rock bottom … awake 24 hours a day … things going round in my head…..didn’t want to be here anymore” and you get a sense of the deep level of suffering involved.
Ambrose and Cousins are the latest in a growing list of top level cricketers to talk openly about their pain and suffering when depressed. In so doing they raise awareness and importantly spread hope to others that depression can be overcome. Given that around 1 in 5 of us will experience an episode of depression in our lives (and here we mean the illness depression, not just passing bouts of low mood) the importance of raising awareness is clear.
For such a common illness depression can be difficult to recognise. Why is that? Well depression often develops slowly, creeping up on sufferers so that they slip deeper into it often hardly noticing. Before long they go from feeling tired, unmotivated and irritable to depressed in mood, lacking in energy and unable to enjoy anything. As things worsen self isolation, a sense of hopelessness or helplessness and a permanently negative mindset develop. For some such as Cousins suicidal thoughts and plans follow as a way out of the unbearable suffering seems impossible.
Ongoing stigma associated with depression
Not surprisingly given the usual banter & bravado of the changing room it is not easy for players with depression to seek help or be noticed. One of the most striking scenes in the BBC programme: Freddie Flintoff, The Hidden Side of Sport was when Neil Fairbrother was reflecting back what he had seen of his former team mate during Flintoff’s troubled times. The look of discomfort on Flintoff’s face shows us the ongoing stigma associated with depression and other mental health problems.
Stigma is one of the key reasons why people find it so hard to ask for help. Mental health awareness education is the key to breaking down that stigma. As Psychiatrists we do our bit but the impact when sports stars speak up is far greater. When the likes of Ambrose and Cousins (and before them Trescothick, Yardy, Harmison et al) stand up and talk about depression we are grateful to them for their brave honesty. Awareness = potential lives saved.
The key with depression is that it is treatable
One key message about depression is that although it is COMMON and DISABLING is it very TREATABLE. Treatment is widely available and generally very effective. Most people will respond well to a course of talking with a psychologist or therapist, usually Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A smaller number with more severe depression may require a course of antidepressant medication.
The PCA has rightly been highly praised for leading the effort to tackle depression within the game. Ambrose talks passionately when he says, “The PCA does so many amazing things for us ….. for them to make this (depression) an awareness subject will really get the message across to the players”. Ambrose was put in touch with a Sports Psychologist and that was the start of his path to recovery.
In addition to the confidential helpline which LPP run for the PCA there are now excellent videos on the website tackling a number of psychological health issues including depression and suicide. As part of the wider education programme we ran a mental health awareness workshop for the PCA Player Development Managers at the Oval in August. By helping PCA staff to recognise the telltale signs of depression and develop their skills in talking to players about these issues early and effective treatment can be provided.
- Depression is common and can affect anyone.
- If your mood is low and stays low and you experience other symptoms such as lack of energy, loss of interest in life, sleeping badly, being unable to cope, poor appetite, weight loss, lowered sex drive or thoughts of self-harm it is likely that you have developed depression.
- Prevention strategies include sleeping well, avoiding alcohol, eating well, exercise and keeping up social contacts & outside interests.
- Top level professional help is only a phone call away.
- Don’t keep depression to yourself – speak to someone.
- IT’S GOOD TO TALK.