Tuesday, 17 January 2012

With great sporting icons, comes great pain.....

Over the last few months, we have seen this great sporting nation rocked by one of the most unrecognised, one of the most inconspicuous, and one of the most character changing conditions in the world...Depression.

Depression, as defined by the World Health Organisation, is: "a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual's ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850 000 lives every year."

Over the last 12 months, the UK has seen a number of sportspeople suffer from depression, some ending tragically, and others with a light at the end of the painful tunnel. Not only does depression create a bubble of insecurities for the sufferer, but it most importantly gives them a feeling of isolation, that nobody will feel, nobody can help, and they are all alone with no channel to combat against it.
Now, I'm no expert on the disorder, granted, but I've experienced my fair share of people suffering from depression in my personal life, and it has become the inspiration to emphasise the importance of it. I have two family members who suffer from depression, both for different time scales, but it doesn't take long to see how quickly it can affect somebody's persona: the way they act; the way they react; their confidence; their overall happiness; their people skills. But, like any medical problem, it affects us all differently. Some are lucky enough to realise help is needed early, and some have the tree for help, and a system by which they have the support of others, and unfortunatly others do not.

We have seen this within sport, and how quickly and unrecognised depression is within a hobby which is loved by billions across the world. The general opinion of sportspeople is that they are machines. Robots. Not human? Well, the truth is they are human, and like any ordinary human, sporting greats do share the same experiences as us "ordinary" people. Despite our devoted passion for sport and our desire to win, surely the health of a human being is of the upmost importance? Do remember, this blog is not to preach on the medical condition, or to even come close to saying I know what sufferers are going through, because truth has it, no, I do not know. I can't describe the mental pain others are enduring. This blog, is simply a view on sport, and despite our craving for success as sport lovers, the question we have to ask ourselves....To a person, is winning really that important?

Gary Speed's tragic death at the end of 2011 is probably one of emotional, and unexpected stories. A football manager, at the peak of his coaching career, and changing the dynamic of the Welsh national side sadly committed suicide. And nobody knew why. My blog on Speed's death will illuminate my readers more - (http://garethmessenger.blogspot.com/2011/11/gary-speed-gentleman-of-football.html), and three years ago, German goalkeeper Robert Enke, who would have been number one choice at the 2010 World Cup, committed suicide at the age of 32 after stepping out in front out a train. That same day, he told his wife he was off to training for his club side (Hannover 96) and gave his child a kiss. There was no training that day, and Enke's silent battle against his illness is just another example of how critical the issue is. It is a killer, and a silent killer. Robert Enke kept his depression secret, and believed he had the pure strength to battle his illness alone. It is another painstaking argument that people could be the solution to battling depression, but it can also be the problem. Enke needed people to talk to, yet he felt he could turn to nobody. Gary Speed was the same. So are people just as important in helping, just as they are important in conflicting the mental damage?

As recent as the last week, former footballer Dean Windass has told of his struggle against alcohol and depression, and admitted he attempted to commit suicide twice. Once by taking pills, then another by attempting to hang himself. He was stopped by friends and family. Windass has admitted he needs help, and he needs to announce his problems as part of the cure. From a personal point, the stunning revelations shocked me. I've always seen Windass as a fighter. A sturdy, strong striker and character and an outgoing personality. Was I wrong? Or was I just naive enough to think that somebody of his reputation on the field,could surely not suffer off it? The truth is he does. As do many others. Of different ages. And the shocking truth is, the most unexpected case on my sportsperson list, is yet to be revealed.

Today in rugby union, it was revealed that former Sale Sharks winger Selorm Kuadey has died at the age of 24, after apparently taking his own life. Kuadey spent five years at Sale before injury forced him to retire in 2011. He then moved into a career outside of rugby, achieving a first class honours degree in human biology and infectious diseases at the University of Manchester. He had also recently started his own new business. But it does raise the question whether his sporting career was a contributing factor to Kuadey's tragic death. At such a young age, and a bright, intelligent human being with a big career ahead of him, did the sudden disappointment of injury thwart his ultimate dream, and was it this dream all he wanted? His retirement in 2010 was certainly a major setback in reaching that dream, but more an intellectually switched on human being, has the pressures of sport taken its toll on, once again, the very fragile human mind?

And, now to the most fascinating story I have seen on the topic of the depression. I won't go into much detail, but despite his size, personality and quality on the field, cricketer Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff will always be seen as the "soft guy" of cricket. Always caring, always working, always looking out for others. Flintoff's career was one which will be unrivalled for a very long time. But who? Who knew? This character and this man loved by millions of cricket fans could find himself on the front line of the battle against depression. This article is a fantastic insight into how we perceive sport, and how it creates more problems, and than it does resolve the problem.


For the direct link to the documentary on Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side of Sport - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b019gbpk/Freddie_Flintoff_Hidden_Side_of_Sport/

The documentary is an outstanding look into the world of professional sport, and even though we regard them as machine, emotionless and powerful, Flintoff meets with fellow sporting pros to discuss the serious effects of depression.

We can help the people who suffer from this powerful illness. It's an overwhelming stat that around 121million people worldwide suffer from depression. So what can we do to help ease their suffering? And it puts into context on the topic of sport, and how sport is a may be a release for sufferers, but at the top levels, depression is an overwhelming worry, an issue, a problem. It has even become a killer, and earlier I mentioned whether winning was important or not? But now, I simply ask: Is the relevance of sport important? Do the pressures of professional sport create more problems than joy? And, does success and fame and money really, really bring you happiness?

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