As the talk amongst cricket fans turns to the implications of Jonathan Trott’s sudden withdrawal from England’s Australian tour and what it will mean for remainder of the 2013-14 Ashes series, there seems to be a concerted effort going into avoiding any reference to mental illness.
Last night Trott released a statement saying: “I don’t feel it is right that I’m playing knowing that I’m not 100% and I cannot currently operate at the level I have done in the past… My priority now is to take a break from cricket so that I can focus on my recovery. I want to wish my team-mates all the very best for the remainder of the tour.”
Ever since Trott’s announcement, every media outlet reporting the story has been attributing the English player’s departure to ‘stress-related illness’ – that’s the official line being used to describe his condition. There is a strong implication of mental illness – such as depression or anxiety – in Trott’s statement, and yet Trott, the players and international sports media have made no mention of any disorders that fall under the Mental Illness umbrella.
While many health problems can be caused or exacerbated by stress (including heart disease, sleep problems, autoimmune diseases et cetera), the main conditions attributed to it are Depression and Anxiety. Unfortunately, mental health disorders like depression and anxiety have a history of being stigmatised and treated with an ‘off limits’ degree of sensitivity within the world of professional sport.
A similar situation and one of crickets most publicised cases is Marcus Trescothick who left the 2006-7 Ashes tour also with a ‘stress-related illness’ only to talk in detail about the time in his memoirs later on. He described his dismissive attitude toward mental illness before experiencing depression firsthand:
“Until I learned the hard way, from first-hand experience, just what the illness entails, how it works and what the effects can be, I had been one of those whose attitude to depression bordered on the skeptical,” he wrote. “If someone complained of being depressed, my initial reaction would be the words ‘Cheer up’, swiftly followed by ‘Pull yourself together’.”
Tied in with word of Trott’s withdrawal, a lot is being made of his form during England’s defeat in the first Ashes test and the subsequent sledging he received, namely by David Warner. Warner said of England and Trott’s performance that “It does look like they’ve got scared eyes at the moment. The way that ‘Trotty’ got out today was pretty poor and pretty weak. Obviously there is a weakness there and we’re probably on top of it at the moment.”
Due in part to the timing of the announcement, some commentators have been suggesting there’s a link between the sledging incident and Trott’s sudden exit as if it were simply a case of running home because of some spiteful comments, failing to remember that Trott is well known to give as good as he gets on that front.
Not to give undeserved credence to anonymous commenter on news stories, but several seem to be suggesting that Trott’s exit comes down to his inability to hack it in the big leagues. On one particular Telegraph article one comment read: “We all face pressures in life and have to deal with adversity and disappointment. Maybe Trott has a clinical mental disorder, or maybe he’s just weak minded and too busy feeling sorry for himself. I think it’s the latter, but I’m happy to be proved wrong.”
Someone else pulled out a quote from Keith Miller (Australian cricketer and ex-bomber pilot in WW2) which reads “…pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, cricket is not.”
Warner’s comments were made before the team had been notified about Trott’s illness, and perhaps for that reason England’s manager has come forward with a statement emphasising Trott’s decision to leave had nothing to do with any criticism he received regarding his performance. Steve Warner, David Warner’s brother, has today said: “I’ve been through depression, did not realise it was this cause he went home… I do apologise and wish him all the best recovery.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan, who had been critical of Trott’s performance in the first Ashes test, has since said, “I don’t know how long it’s been going on for Jonathan but clearly this week he wasn’t right. I criticised him in the second innings and I wished I hadn’t. The hardest thing about it is that it’s stress, not visual.”
Yes, Michael Vaughan straight up admitted that when the issue is a mental one as opposed to a physical one, it’s more difficult to comment on. Add to this the fact it has been made clear that further information about Trott’s condition is strictly off limits – with his management and teammates unwilling to discuss details – it does make you wonder how different the situation would be if it were a torn ligament that had sent the cricketer home.
Former Premier League footballer Clarke Carlisle who experienced depression and spoken out about his battle believes that the English Cricket Board is doing the right thing. Carlisle says, “there is a far greater appetite now to address mental health issues. The mechanisms that are in place in society as a whole are nowhere near adequate, but things are improving.”
Things would undoubtedly improve faster if the sporting world, and the world at large, could address mental illness in an open and honest way; there should be no room in modern Australia for an elephant.
If you or somebody close to you is struggling with depression or anxiety, the first step is being empowered to make a change. Beyond Blue provide a supportive community for mental illness sufferers, and are available day or night by calling 1300 22 4636.