Saturday, October 13, 2012

Great Expectations

We expect a lot out of our sporting heroes.

We expect them to be at the top of their game every time they step onto the field of play.

We expect them to be paragons of virtue and role models in their personal lives.

Most of all, we expect them to be bulletproof. To be able to absorb whatever life throws at them and come out swinging.

When it comes down to it however, they are only human. The same as the rest of us. They have the same feelings, the same emotions, the same sensitivities.

A professional sports changing room isn't always the place you imagine a bunch of people sitting around, talking about their feelings. So things get bottled up, get taken home into their private lives until they explode, usually in a splattering of tabloid headlines.

For the likes of Tony Adams, solace came in the form of drink. Others turn to drugs, or gambling, or affairs as routes of dealing with the mental strain their work puts upon them.

In some cases, these coping mechanisms aren't enough and sportspeople take their own lives. Former German international goalkeeper Robert Enke stepped in front of a train at the age of 32 after struggling with depression since the death of his daughter.

On 26 September 2010, former Great Britain rugby league international Terry Newton took his own life. Nobody who came into contact with him in a professional environment would ever have considered him to be mentally "weak" or "soft". He was very much the tough guy on the field, sometimes crossing the line of legality.

At the time of his death, Newton was suspended from the game he loved as a result of a doping offence. The work life that kept him focused had been taken away. His post-mortem found traces of cocaine, amphetamine and prescription anti-depressants.

Help that wasn't available to Newton is now at hand however, through the State Of Mind campaign ( The programme was established in 2011 with the aim of improving the mental health, well being and working life of rugby league professionals and communities.

Developed with mental health professionals, it offers sessions and advice on practical ways to look after your mental health, irrespective of what you do for a living. Ambassadors for the programme include Adrian Morley, Andrew Johns, Paul Merson and James Wade. Word is clearly spreading across sports and across communities that thinking about and looking after your mental health is not a sign of weakness.

Just knowing that there is someone you can talk to, or techniques that you can use yourself to help improve your mental health will save lives. Those behind State Of Mind deserve a massive vote of praise for the work that they do.

By encouraging the sporting heroes and role models of young people to talk about mental health, they will hopefully help improve attitudes around it for future generations. Take the first step yourself, and think about your attitude next time you read about well-paid professional sportspeople who seem to have it all talking about stress and depression. After all, they are only human.

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