The issues that arise from mental health are not new to many people in the UK – it is a battle that 1 in 4 will experience, which is approximately 16 million inhabitants. The difficulties sufferers are under can vary like any other illness, from depression, to anxiety, to obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder, and the extreme results of these illnesses can be catastrophic.
However, the public reaction and the stigma attached is often not one of sympathy, but one that smacks of a ‘man up’ way thinking – particularly in sport. This reaction mainly steams from the lack of visual evidence that someone is suffering with a mental health issue.
A MIND poll conducted by ComRes asked over 2,000 people a series of questions on mental health. It revealed that there are still some negative attitudes, with a sizeable minority of 12% of respondents thinking that sportsmen and women with a mental health problem should not be allowed to keep competing.
The stigma attached has however, been slowly eroding according to the mental health charity MIND. They believe that thanks to hearing elite athletes speaking about their mental health problems, 58% of respondents from the poll stated that it encouraged others to seek help for their own mental health problem. These individuals included Marcus Trescothick and Freddie Flintoff from the world of cricket, boxers Ricky Hatton and Frank Bruno and Rugby’s own Duncan Bell and Jonny Wilkinson.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of MIND, the leading mental health charity that announced a new partnership with Wasps this week, believes that, “mental health has never been higher on the agenda for professional sport and it is clear that hearing sportsmen and women being so open about mental health is a positive development.”
The tragic events that lead to the suicides of Gary Speed, the Wales football manager, and Selorm Kuadey, the former England Under-20 rugby player, illustrate how important mental health is and the lengths people who suffer will go to rid themselves of it. Mental health, much like homosexuality, has always been the elephant in the room when talking about sport, and in particular rugby.
It took Duncan Bell, the Bath and England front row, well over 15 years to tell someone other than his best friend and Bath team-mate David Flatman that he was suffering with depression. When he finally shared his ordeal to his team-mates he was in tears, but their reaction was something to behold: they acknowledged his pain and his struggle and rallied round to support him.
That reaction is exactly the kind that MIND and Wasps are hoping to create with their groundbreaking partnership. Farmer also stated that, “the mental health of players is equally as important as their physical health, so it is hugely welcome that both Wasps and the RPA are working on providing help and support for any player experiencing a mental health problem.”
This partnership will allow MIND to harness the publicity that Wasps will give them, through their activities on the pitch with the MIND logo on the Wasps Rugby shirts, and through charity fundraising activities off it. Kukri the Wasps kit manufacturer has also agreed to give 10% of the proceeds from selected match day sales of their new Wasps away shirt to the charity.
It will also give the Wasps players and staff a chance to talk to, and learn from, qualified leading psychologists about the mental pressures and strains they are put under week in and week out. Dai Young, the Wasps Director of Rugby believes that, “in a high-pressure environment such as professional rugby, positive mental health plays an important role in the lives of players and coaches. We’re very pleased to be part of this charity partnership which will allow us to raise awareness of a crucial issue.”
A recent research followed out by the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association found out that 1 in 3 rugby players will suffer and experience depression, anxiety or stress during or after they retire from the game. The issue of mental health and the problems, which some players will endure, has led to David Barnes the ex-Bath and England player and now Rugby Players Association Manager, to fully endorse this partnership. Barnes states that the, “partnership between London Wasps and MIND is fantastic for the players and for the game. It is so encouraging to see a club putting players’ welfare, mental and physical, first.”
Barnes concluded that, “the RPA looks forward to working alongside MIND as we continue to educate players about mental health issues and provide a confidential counselling service for RPA members through LPP Consulting. This ensures players have support in every area of their lives, both during and after their rugby careers.”
With the issue of mental health finally being looked at within professional sport, the tragic events of Speed and Kuadey should not be repeated.
If you want to find more information on mental health please visit the MIND website at www.mind.org.uk. MIND’s info line is on 0300 123 3393 and the Legal Line is on 0300 466 6463. The help lines are open Monday – Friday 9am – 6pm.
By Barnaby Halliday