Monday, 25 November 2013
Jonathan Trott, everyman
Jonathan Trott's departure from England's cricket tour of Australia must touch at the heartstrings (above). A dedicated man, immersed in his sport, and famed for his physical and mental toughness in the middle, has been brought low by a 'stress-related illness'. That might mean many things, but right now it means that Trott is hurting. A lot.
We've been here before, of course, for instance when Marcus Trescothick was forced to come home in 2006. But cricket fans and commentators are starting, just starting, to get a handle on a problem that's been dogging the game for years: the black dog of depression. Former captains who were rather too quick with their criticism have apologised, mortified to hear about the problems they've probably exacerbated.
Now, the statistical underpinnings of the idea that cricketers are more prone to depression (and suicide) than the rest of the population are open to question. But there's no doubt that professional sport as a whole exposes men and women to nearly unbearable pressure. Do you fancy your entire professional identity and ability coming undone in front of tens of thousands of people - with many millions more watching at home? No, neither do I.
But there's no doubt that progress has been made, both within a rather conservative game, and in our wider society. Graeme Fowler, who played for England back in the 1980s, has spoken with some bravery about his own battles with depression - struggles that wouldn't have met nearly such an understanding or sophisicated response as they do today. We've come a long way. Senior figures within the game are now just about able to talk about their own 'demons', problems, doubts, worries and fears. We need to go further, because we've basically just come out of cavedwelling ignorance and started talking about depression and anxiety as if they're the same as having hurt your leg. But it's all a start.
It's be nice to think that people might stop hurling ridiculous insults and threats at each other while they go about their business - and hold back before they call each other names. The hosts might look at themselves a little quizzically after this. Quite apart from anything else, Australia's big and aggressive talk before the game nearly came unstuck on day one of The Ashes - and their opponents might regroup and stick together even more tightly now one of their number has been wounded. It's probably a forlorn hope, and we'll probably all be back whacking each other with a little cricket stick in a few days, but hey - it's something to hold onto.
For now, it's worth saying this: lots of people are struggling all the time. It's impossible to live without feeling like you might come apart. You have felt that. I have felt that. Everyone has felt that. Maybe there's someone struggling next to you at work right now. Why don't you ask them? Why don't you talk frankly about your own problems if they ask you? One thing's for sure: the principles of World Mental Health Day - frankness, fairness, compassion, dignity, openness - have never been more relevant.