The win­dow into ‘the black dog of de­pres­sion’ is thank­fully start­ing to open in sport

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

NO one is to blame for Robert Enke’s death but every­one in sport can learn from it.

The 32-year-old Enke, tipped to be Ger­many’s first choice goal­keeper at next year’s World Cup, took his own life in front of a speed­ing train on Tues­day.

Of­fi­cials at his club, Han­nover 96, and his stunned na­tional team-mates knew noth­ing of the clin­i­cal de­pres­sion which led him into such des­per­a­tion.

He had con­cealed his con­di­tion and his treat­ment be­cause he feared it would cost him his ca­reer and could pos­si­bly cause wel­fare of­fi­cers to take away his adopted child.

Like all cases of de­pres­sion, Enke’s is par­tic­u­lar to his own cir­cum­stances, chem­istry and psy­chol­ogy and shouldn’t be used for glib anal­y­sis or sweep­ing con­clu­sions, how­ever it does carry a clear re­minder about the tra­di­tional en­vi­ron­ment of sport.

As Ricky Wil­liams, an Amer­i­can foot­ball star who suf­fered like Enke, says, “in sports when it’s a bro­ken bone, teams will do ev­ery­thing in their power to make sure it’s okay but when it’s a bro­ken soul, it’s like a weak­ness.”

He is echoed by Terry Brad­shaw, a leg­endary four-time Su­per Bowl win­ner, who told Sports Il­lus­trated; “We’re sup­posed to be big, tough guys. ‘You have de­pres­sion? Shoot, that’s not de­pres­sion. That’s weak­ness.’ That’s how the think­ing goes.”

Men­tal health is­sues still carry a stigma in all work- places but a sweaty train­ing ground or a joc­u­lar chang­ing room are not ex­actly con­ducive to re­veal­ing such frail­ties.

Su­per­fi­cially we’re in­clined to think that sports stars shouldn’t suf­fer from se­ri­ous de­pres­sion be­cause they are liv­ing our dreams of fame, for­tune, adu­la­tion and phys­i­cal prow­ess, but there is lit­tle or no con­nec­tion in any walk of life be­tween ma­te­rial or phys­i­cal suc­cess and the in­ci­dence of de­pres­sion.

Sports stars have no mag­i­cal es­cape route from the na­tional av­er­age of men­tal health prob­lems, which some put as high as one-in-four, and it’s sug­gested they might have an even higher propen­sity than nor­mal be­cause of the stress of pub­lic per­for­mance, in­or­di­nate amounts of time away from home and the fragility of a ca­reer which could end with a sin­gle in­jury.

Matthew Syed, writ­ing in The Times, has also ob­served that “pro­fes­sional sport, in many ways, de­mands neu­ro­sis as it makes a virtue of the ob­ses- sional pur­suit of per­fec­tion”.

Iron­i­cally many sports­men and women have spo­ken about the hor­ri­ble sense of empti­ness that ar­rives at their great­est mo­ment of tri­umph.

Thank­fully the win­dow into “the black dog of de­pres­sion”, as Win­ston Churchill called it, is open­ing grad­u­ally in the sports world.

English crick­eter Mar­cus Tre­coth­ick’s ad­mirable can­dour about his strug­gles rep­re­sented a big step. An­other one was taken by An­dre Agassi.

Among all the hoopla about crys­tal meth and his wig, Agassi’s con­tro­ver­sial au­to­bi­og­ra­phy gives in­sights into his deeply de­pressed state of mind which even led him to ef­fec­tively throw a French Open semi-fi­nal.

As some rush to con­demn him, three-time Wim­ble­don cham­pion John Newcombe cau­tions that “any­one who’s been at the top that doesn’t un­der­stand that (sort of de­pres­sion) is not telling the truth.”

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