Regardless of the fact there was no evidence suggesting that his death was related to depression, the recent suicide of Welsh manager Gary Speed sparked much interest into the connection between sportsmen and mental health.
Despite the front of bravado and confidence that many sportsmen exude, there is clearly a connection between their mental health and what they do. Freddie Flintoff investigated the link in the revealing BBC One documentary The Hidden Side of Sport, in which he explored the following high profile cases:
- Ricky Hatton, boxer – Suffered trauma after being knocked out in his fight with Manny Pacquia in 2009. It took him 4 months to pluck up the courage to replay the fight after falling into a spiral of depression and drinking.
- Neil Lennon, Celtic FC manager – Suffered from sweats, shakes and a loss of appetite when he used to be a player due to his depression.
- Graham Dott, snooker player – Now taking medication following a bout of depression that resulted in him often bursting into tears during matches.
- Vinnie Jones, footballer – Contemplated suicide and went as far as wandering into a wood’s near to his home with a gun after being harshly criticised in the press after a notoriously poor performance in Dublin.
Interestingly, Flintoff also spoke of his own experiences as a high profile sportsman. Although he was never technically diagnosed with depression, he did admit to veering of the rails slightly during the infamously bad 2006/7 Ashes performance, in which he captained England through to 5 consecutive defeats. In the documentary Flintoff reflected on that stage of his life, describing one time in particular as ‘rock bottom’ when on a tearful night out with his dad.
Flintoff described how as a pro cricketer, even during the early stages of his career he was encouraged to put on a front of confidence on the pitch even if he felt the opposite. He managed to do this so convincingly that it meant he couldn’t confess to his team mates that in actual fact he felt insecure or depressed because he feared that doing so would damage their confidence.
Though Flintoff didn’t manage to draw any concrete conclusions from his investigation, former cricket psychologist Steve Bull observed that modern sportsmen often become completely consumed and obsessed with their sport, so much so that it is fine when it is going well – but extremely damaging to the self-esteem when it isn’t.
If you are concerned that either yourself or a loved one may be suffering from depression then you may find talking about your experiences with a qualified counsellor to be of benefit. For more information about counselling for depression, please visit our fact-sheet to find out more or visit our homepage and use the search tool to locate a professional in your local area.
You can view The Hidden Side of Sport on BBC iPlayer.
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