An article in Deccan Herald dtd 24/9/17- The celebrity whirlpool by Karen Crouse: courtesy New York Times News service : that highlighted the struggles of two great swimmers Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett with Anxiety and depression: set me to think deeply- If people who visit professionals seeking help are advised along with other remedies: to indulge in exercise and physical activity, as these promote the release of Serotonin- a neurotransmitter which has a therapeutic value to fight depression- why then athletes who throughout their lives engage in sports and physical activities at insane levels are prone for mental illness and depression? I will not end with the word- PERIOD here, because the whole issue is a discussable thing.
When the beautiful Deepika Padukone, one of the leading actresses of Bollywood [Mumbai film Industry] came out in the open about her fight with depression- during the Mental health day- It set tongues wagging- ‘Hey, she’s got everything one could expect- how could she be suffering from depression?’
This is just not the case with Phelps, Hackett or Deepika alone: thousands of celebrities Athletes, film stars, artists, politicians and many others from different walks of life are known to be suffering from depression and other forms of mental illnesses.
Earlier the names of the celebrities used to be under wraps but now there is very little stigma attached to it, as people are coming out in the open to express themselves with regard to this vexed issue.
Marcus Thescothik. Freddie Flintoff, Sarah Taylor, Monty Panesar [all cricketers] Ian Thorpe, Greg Louganis, Phelps, Hackett [all swimmers] Paul Gascoigne [football] Serena Williams [Tennis] and John Daly [Golf] have known to have suffered forms of mental illnesses. There may be many others unnamed or unknown.
Research goes to show that athletes are likely to suffer from depression as non-athletes and female athletes in particular expressed more depression symptoms than men. Again, individual athletes are more prone than athletes involved in team sport.
The reason for this according to Professor Jürgen Beckmann of the Technical university of Munich – individual athletes are prone since they are lonely and they attribute failure more to themselves than team sport athletes. They take success and failure more personally than team players. In a team sport there is diffusion of responsibility compared to individual sports.
Elite athletes are known to lead a dream life as many other aspirants would put it- in their terms. The elite earn a lot of money through contracts, prize money, sponsorships, endorsements etc and it needs no telling as to what money can buy.
They lead a jet-set life flying from one city to another: lodge at five star hotels: have their own jets, yachts, villas and tiny islands. When they have all those things that are supposed to make them happy: then why do they get depressed is the common man’s question that looks at life from outside the glass house. In reality people who live in these glass houses only know what they go through.
Michael Phelps said in an interview that they are normal people and go through the same struggles as the others do. Many of those suffering express the need to be treated as a person first and as a celebrity athlete, later.
Let’s explore some of the possible reasons for athletes to suffer from mental illnesses:- Fear of failure and actual failure, injury and recovery, performance anxiety, demands to perform and win every time, continuous travel and competitions without break and recovery, staying away from loved ones, fatigue and sickness, being dropped from sides for non-performance, living in closed rooms of 5 star hotels, scrutiny by the press and public [ probe in to private life], retirement and identity crisis post retirement, lack of social support from family and friends, lack of socializing and social contact, indulging in substance abuse to beat boredom, changing life-styles, death of dear ones, relationship issues and inability to lead the life of a common man.
What are the tell-tale symptoms of mental illnesses– With drawl from friends and activities, moodiness, feelings of anxiety, anger or sadness, indecision and lack in concentration, loss of appetite and weight changes, low pleasure and interest, feelings of low self-worth and guilt with drop in performance
Many organisations connected to sports have initiated programmes to help athletes identify symptoms of mental illness and further seek professional help. In India, with cricket being a major sport and the teams play continuously round the trot and staying away from families for longer periods of time plus the continuous travelling and living out-of-suitcases take a toll on their emotional health and they get prone to the symptoms of depression. I hope one of the richest sports bodies in the world the BCCI is doing enough to help cricketers identify and thwart depression before its onset.
Early diagnosis, professional help from behavioural psychologists or psychiatrists, CBT therapy with counselling will help athlete’s combat mental illness.