Mental Health in Sport in Spotlight
Mental health has been in the news a lot recently, with the recent “Heads Together” campaign being launched by members of the royal family to promote Britain’s talking about mental health, the Lord Mayor of London’s “This is me in the City” appeal, together with other campaigns being promoted by MIND, Rethink Mental Illness and other charities. Indeed, as some of you will know, this is a key time of year for mental health with May being Mental Health Awareness month in the USA and next week being Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.
One of the recurring themes of these campaigns is the need to break the perceived stigma of mental health illness, which prevents people disclosing their problems and seeking treatment. With this in mind, it was surprising to read some of the commentary in yesterday’s newspapers concerning the mental well-being of Aaron Lennon, the Everton and England winger. Whilst, in the main, the reaction has been supportive, with a huge outpouring of support and sympathy for the player online, some media reporting has still dwelt on the sensational – past personal indiscretions, paparazzi photos, and salary and wages for instance.
Mental Health in football, and indeed in sport as a whole, is a serious and on-going issue. Many sportspeople, for example Clarke Carlisle (former QPR and Burnley defender and former chairman of the Professional Footballers Association), Freddie Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Jonathan Trott (all England cricketers), Brandon Marshall (NFL), Frank Bruno (boxing), Paul Gascoigne, Stan Collymore (football), Vicky Pendleton (cycling) and Duncan Bell (rugby union) have all revealed that they have suffered or do suffer from mental health issues. Indeed, what from the outside seems like a fairy-tale job, in which individuals are showered with adulation, money and are only “playing a game” is actually a very high pressure job, at which individuals are subject to increasing scrutiny, particularly in this era of Instagram, twitter and instant (sometimes fake) news. Further, players often are reluctant to admit to mental health issues, fearing that admitting a perceived ‘weakness’ might impact upon their chances of selection, or lead to taunting and abuse from fans.
Given the number of individuals both in and out of top level sport who have admitted struggling with the stigma of their mental health issues, one wonders how this may impact other players who are considering whether to reveal their own struggles with similar issues. For example, given recent reports, would you want to tell the world in an attempt to break the stigma of mental illness, or would you be tempted to struggle on and try to hide the issue in order to avoid subjecting yourself to the same scrutiny that Lennon has been subjected to?