The serious threat sport can pose to my mental health
THIS column started with the greatest intention of showcasing the plight of professional sports people and mental health and how many examples there have been of individuals not being able to get over that one implosion, mistake or blow-out.
My statistical research led me to the prevalence and increase of mental health symptoms and disorders in current elite athletes. According to several reports, from different countries and taking into account a variety of sporting codes, alcohol misuse was up by 20%, and you could nearly double that for those affected by anxiety and depression.
I didn’t know this, but there is a South African and global health calendar that lists a day dedicated to awareness around every and any sort of medical condition.
Mental health is slotted in for the month of October, and October 10 is officially the global mental health day.
It is on this day that you find sporting people being quoted everywhere on the evils of public expectation, of careers spent inside a fish bowl with the gaze of the world the only constant, of the escape found in recreational substances, of the abuse thereof and of mental disintegration.
There are some amazingly inspirational stories of comebacks, and there are also some very sad stories of those who never emerge from the darkness.
Mental health and addictions demand daily global awareness. I turned to my trusted mate, Mr Google, for range, variety and validity, and in one of the sub-decks I saw the key words “sport and what it means to your mental health”.
When I clicked on the link, it referred to the mental benefits of exercise and competing in sport. This isn’t what had lured me in.
I thought the topic would be how sports results can have such an impact on the mental health of the average supporter.
And it was here that the direction of the column changed to why it is that we allow the failure or perceived failure of sporting individuals to have such an impact on our own psyche, and to be so detrimental to our own state of being. I found myself thinking about how quickly my mood could change with a sporting result or a moment within the context of a match.
I didn’t have to think long for an example because a few hours earlier my night changed because of Mo Salah’s miss in Liverpool’s second leg quarter-final against Real Madrid. It was the game-changer.
I was on the phone to mates at half-time. Salah may be the top scorer for Liverpool this season, but as he failed to bury a certain score, I cursed him and myself for choosing to support Liverpool all those years ago.
As I flicked between channels, I got more annoyed with Liverpool’s inability to score, and Manchester City’s inevitable ability to do a Lazarus and rise from apparent death in the shape of Dortmund.
Watching sport … it’s been the gateway to so much euphoria within me, and equally some of my darker moments.
I know a dark mood and depression aren’t the same thing, but I also know, through seeing it in many people, how the many dark moods caused by sporting results have led to distress, depression and an inability to move beyond a player’s mistake and fallibility.
To those who have never invested in sport as a fan, they would think me mad to even ask the question, but how much damage is being done because the reality of a result does not match the fantasy of the unrealistic expectation sports fans take into every occasion?
I don’t have the answer, but it certainly has made me think a bit more about the absurdity of the notion that I am allowing a sporting moment or occasion to dictate the state of my mental health.
Or am I being absurd to even think it is absurd? Damn you, Mo Salah. Damn you, Jurgen Klopp and damn you, Liverpool. I feel like I am walking alone today.
At least until this weekend, when it all starts over again because ever since I started investing my time and emotion in supporting a team, it has been with the deluded conviction that the player and team must indulge my escapism and expectation, with an unchallenged acceptance (on my part) that the result will determine whether my day is one of awe or agitation.
Absurd. Don’t I know it!