Depression in sport
The following is an article from various web based accounts of depression in sport. Not fully edited but a fascinated read – particularly where individuals offer their own personal sories.
Depression is not selective it does not discriminate who it lands on.
Irrespective of your walk of life, your personal situation and the size of your pay packet, depression can take hold of you. And when it does, it’s not nice. Statistics show that 1 in 10 people will suffer from anxiety or depression at some stage. Uncertainty, poor financial situations, difficult relationships, media attention, self-imposed pressure cam all contribute.
In sport, being under the media spot light, a loss of form, injury, being away from home for extended periods of times, or nearing retirement age can all contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Sport is littered with stories of depression, many of them tragic. When Gary Speed took his own life in 2013 the world of sport gasped and then grieved together; Robert Enke’s suicide, Kelly Holmes act of self-harming, Frank Bruno being sectioned and Marcus Trescothick’s departure from the world’s most renowned cricket tour due to panic attacks and depression, are just a few key moments within elite sport that act as a cruel reminder of how depression can impact on sports people as easily as anyone else. And why would we think it should be different?
Depression hits for a number for reasons, and for many it may well be that feeling of being stuck or trapped in a certain situation. Many times it could result from financial difficulties in a number of guises. You do not have to be poor to suffer from depression for financial issues. It may be relationships that cause depression or even lack of them. Loneliness can be difficult. For many non-sports people, they cannot understand how an elite athlete, who gets paid well for doing sport, living the dream, travelling in five star luxuries and adored by many, could suffer from depression. They miss the point. Even the biggest stars in world sport are apt to suffer. Take a look at Serena Williams, Paul Gascoigne and Marcus Trescothic for three immediate examples.
Sport brings its own issues that are unique to that domain. The pressure to achieve, to progress, to win, to maintain confidence and form are just the tip of the iceberg. Being dropped injured, relocating or even being promoted to team captain can all bring their own issues. For footballers at the top of the league the pressure could be as high as a team struggling at the bottom. For athletes travelling there may be nutritional issues or sleep issues which can also lead to anxiety. The pressure to perform, and perform well, in elite level sport can be a weight too much for some. For many, the anxiety is short lived and accepted as part of the journey. For other sit may develop into something more serious.
As international cricketer, Marcus Trescothick explained, “Demands of playing every northern hemisphere summer at home as well as every southern hemisphere summer on tour, meant we now spent almost 12 months a year living out of suitcases and in hotel rooms. Of course the lifestyle was considered luxurious, our every off-field need was catered for by a solid back-up staff including a doctor, nutritionist, sport psychologist, etc., we were very well paid for our efforts and it beat real work any day. … That, coupled with the four-wall fever that can strike you when you are stuck inside a hotel bedroom complete with en-suite bathroom for days on end prior to moving onto the next one, was simply not a natural way to live. It creates extraordinary strains for the players not to mention their wives and families.”
Some of the higher profile cases of depression in sport include the following:
32 year old German goalkeeper, Robert Enke, took his own life in 2009, never having recovered from the loss of his two-year old daughter and failing to come to grips with the intensity (media, social and professional pressures) that comes with high level sport. Enke was the Bundesliga goalkeeper of the season in 2008/9 season and a member of the German National Side. His suicide shook the football world.
“Everyone else thought I’d made it, that I had the dream life. And I did. I was a 21-year-old professional footballer for QPR and the England Under-21s. I had a nice flat, a nice car and a loving family. My irrational mind had made me think suicide was a rational action though. So I went to a park near my home in Acton armed with lots of painkillers and thought “I’m going to take all these pills and kill myself, because I’m no use to anyone”.
I’d just suffered a severe knee injury and had convinced myself that without football people would see me for what I really was, which nothing was. I sat on a bench in that park, washed the pills down with a can of beer, and waited for it to happen. In the end I was incredibly lucky, because my girlfriend found me and I was rushed to hospital in time to have my stomach pumped.
I survived and didn’t tell another soul about the incident for years and didn’t ask for any help. I just locked this suicide attempt away in Pandora’s Box.
I go back to this spot in my BBC Three documentary, Football’s Suicide Secret. As you’ll see, it was horrible to go back there, I couldn’t stand it. It was awful to think something so strong could have come over me to make me lose sight of all the good in my life. I thought about what I could have missed out on – the great relationship with my daughter, meeting my wife – and I was so ashamed. That’s why speaking to Gary Speed’s sister Lesley was such a profound moment, an epiphany in fact. Speaking to her made me see what I could have put my own family through. I saw the butterfly effect, how the lives of Gary’s parents, children, wife, neighbours and the wider football community were all traumatised by his decision to take his own life. It’s the first time Lesley has spoken publicly about Gary’s death. She says that if someone had asked her whether Gary was suffering from depression before that, she would have said absolutely not; “He hid it from us and it stopped him asking for help,” she tells me. Yet still she regrets not having been able to help him. “We were just so sad that we couldn’t help him through,” she says. “That’s a huge regret that I didn’t get him to one side and say ‘is everything alright?'”
I know only too well that most depressives are great actors who can put on a different persona, a facade. What you need to be able to do is open up, yet the cruelty of the illness is that it won’t let you.
Working on the documentary was very cathartic. I spoke to other professional footballers who have suffered in silence with depression, and I now believe there are hundreds of pros and ex-pros who are suffering from the illness, even though they might not know it. I spoke to former Aston Villa and England midfielder Lee Hendrie, who was earning £40,000 a week and owned £10m worth of properties at the peak of his career. “I thought this is it, this is where I want to be,” he tells me. Yet his life unravelled when he was declared bankrupt after defaulting on a number of mortgages. “I felt like the whole world had fallen down on top of me and said to myself ‘I cannot go on,'” he says.”
Since his playing career ended in 2004 Gascoigne’s problems with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness have worsened. He admitted that retiring from football “ripped his heart out”.
Since retiring the 43-year-old has been sectioned three times under the Mental Health Act and has described how, when he hit rock bottom, he was snorting cocaine and drinking a litre of gin a day, which left him delusional and afraid to leave his room. In 2004 he stated that he wished to be called G8 – a combination of his initial and his old playing number.
The former England hero went public about his continuing battle with addiction in March last year, telling BBC Radio 5 Lives’ Victoria Derbyshire he had been clean of drink and drugs for four months, working the 12 Steps Programme and attending Alcoholics Anonymous. He has spoken of how a binge at Newcastle’s Malmaison Hotel in 2008 left him believing battery-operated toy parrots were speaking to him, and led to his arrest and sectioning under the Mental Health Act after he threatened to harm himself.
Gascoigne, whose career included, spells at Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough and Everton, lives alone in a plush penthouse apartment in Jesmond, an upmarket suburb of Newcastle.
The most talented, and most tainted, England player of his generation has often relapsed back onto drink and drugs. At one event he had to be helped on to the stage for an evening of chat in Northampton. He was weepy, abusive, and obviously ill. At one stage The Sun newspaper reported that he was close to death, and if the accompanying pictures were anything to go by, that didn’t seem much of an exaggeration. It was also revealed that a few of Gazza’s celebrity friends, including Chris Evans and Piers Morgan, had clubbed together to pay for the stay in a clinic in Arizona, where he has previously been treated. Morgan told the Guardian newspaper that he believed Gascoigne was “at the last chance saloon – an all-too apt metaphor for Paul because he has always found it so difficult to pass a saloon without being lured in for a drink”.
For the past two years, Gascoigne, 45, has lived in Dorset, either at the Providence or in a flat close by. And for 18 months of that time, he was dry. He spent his time fishing, playing golf and six-a-side-football with fellow addicts, and attending AA meetings. But there was also, as always with Gascoigne, desperation. He had lost pretty much everything – his money and his wife (after an infamous domestic violence incident, many years ago) – and he was no longer in touch with his children.
He had moved to Bournemouth to get away from “friends” who just wanted to take him for one last night out and hear one last story about his famous goals and celebrations and tears. Perhaps it was always doomed: Gascoigne – even a sick, emaciated Gascoigne – is one of the most recognisable people in the country. Soon enough, he made new friends in Bournemouth who wanted to treat him to one last drink. As well as his addictions, he has been diagnosed bipolar, and has made several suicide attempts.
According to those who worked most closely with him, he showed admirable discipline for most of his time at the Providence, but over the past few months he lost it. The golf and football and meetings went by the wayside, and he was often seen swaying through town looking for the next pub, the next stranger’s shoulder to cry on. Despite his history of physical and verbal abuse, the tortured Gascoigne remains one of Britain’s most loved public figures. It isn’t simply the super-human talent he had with a football: it was his ability to find the funny in the game, whether celebrating a goal with the “dentist’s chair” tribute to a drunken incident or brandishing an admonitory card at a referee.
At the Providence, there is widespread anger at the “leeches and hangers-on” desperate to cash in on Gascoigne. One worker said: “He was taken to Dubai a few months ago. Well, of course he was going to get wrecked there. It was a ridiculous thing to do, and he came back in a state. “And how anyone could have taken him to Northampton and carried him on stage to answer questions is so … cruel. Absolutely outrageous. They treat him like a novelty act, and people wait for him to turn up drunk and make an idiot of himself. It’s a horror movie.” But his agent, Terry Baker, insisted he was only there to help Gascoigne. “The only way Paul would accept he needed treatment was to be made to realise it,” he said. “His counsellors brought him to me in the first place, and he and I have had a good couple of years until now. He has had no help from any of his counsellors or friends recently because he wouldn’t accept he needed it until the events of last week.”
Gascoigne has often been compared to another footballing genius, George Best, who died in 2005, aged 59. “He had an irresistible charm, like George Best,” Morgan said. “Gazza was incredibly funny – a naturally quick-witted, funny character. And there is the emotional side: when he cried at the World Cup, the country fell in love with him because we saw that underneath the cheeky chappy character was this very caring, sensitive, emotional, vulnerable guy.” But, Morgan said, in another way Gascoigne couldn’t be more different to Best: “George Best was a happy drunk. He never wanted to be helped – he just wanted to be left alone to drink himself into the grave; Gazza is a very unhappy drunk. He has been through innumerable hellish treatments, and although he keeps falling off the rails, he is still desperate to sort himself out.”
Former Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Peterborough United and Northampton Town striker Leon McKenzie went on to take up the family sport of boxing after suffering from depression. The 36-year-old retired from football last year to pursue a career in the ring. Meeting Leon McKenzie for the first time, you would not think that depression has shaped his life. The footballer turned boxer appears confident, affable and speaks candidly, a warm and vibrant presence on a cold and mundane afternoon. Such can be the hallmarks of an illness that has, in fact, been a constant presence in McKenzie’s journey of great highs and chastening lows, a long road that has included time in prison, two divorces, the threat of bankruptcy and a failed suicide attempt. “This morning I woke up, had a little moment to myself, I cried,” says McKenzie. “I cry a lot because of the pain and guilt that I carry with things that have happened in my life. I miss my children a lot. I don’t wake up with my kids. The challenges and battles that I go through. It can become a bit draining. When I was playing, naturally you hide quite a lot. It was only after I retired that I was free to speak.”
McKenzie, who hails from Croydon began his career at Crystal Palace and played in the Premier League with Norwich City, is at the peak of physical fitness. Yet mentally, McKenzie still has his demons. From football demigod to parcel courier in Dagenham, the transition from elite sportsman to relative normality has not been smooth. Most days he starts work at 7am, clocks off at 5pm and trains, before returning to a one-bedroom flat. “I’d like to think that I am doing as well as I can,” he says, with a humble smile and a flicker of black humour.
It may be a world away from the Saturday afternoons when thousands chanted his name, but McKenzie has a purpose again and, on the surface, exudes optimism. He speaks passionately about founding a centre to treat people struggling with mental and physical health, and is determined to pursue a career in counselling once the curtain closes on boxing.
It is football, in particular, that McKenzie believes exacerbated his depression. There were memorable moments for a striker who was once bought for £1m, but the game’s failure to broach issues of mental health often left him isolated and with nowhere to turn. It almost ended in a hotel room in Bexleyheath but McKenzie’s suicide attempt failed after he called his father to say goodbye in the last seconds of semi-consciousness. Clinton, in the area, rushed to his aid.
“I used to open the hotel door, shut the curtains and sleep,” McKenzie recalls of his time at Charlton Athletic in 2009, living away from his daughter and then wife. “I couldn’t cope anymore and wanted to end it all, literally tried to. My family came to the hospital and to see them all crying with me in that state, it wasn’t nice for me. But the next day I went to training, I tried to forget about what happened and get on with being a footballer.”
McKenzie had pulled a hamstring the previous day, the latest injury in a series of setbacks that curtailed the latter stages of his career. He did not tell anyone at Charlton what had happened in that hotel room, confiding in almost no one, a trait programmed into him as a young player in an environment where vulnerability is perceived as weakness.
“No player wants to be left out of the team because they suffer from depression,” says McKenzie, whose sister Tracey took her own life aged 23. “If that jeopardises your position within the team, you’re naturally going to hide it. It’s down to clubs to provide that comfort, not to feel sorry for players, but to understand where it can go and the damage it can cause in the long run.
“We are trained to put any kind of doubt to the back of our minds. It’s all ‘come on, let’s focus’. When something creeps in that is negative we are not quick to go and share it. I’m not going to knock on my manager’s door and say: ‘I tried to take my own life last night.’ It’s not going to happen.”
Such are the barriers that McKenzie hopes will fade, a process he is trying to accelerate by telling his own story. His ups and downs have been more significant than most, but there remain many within the game who suffer in silence; be it the result of injury, loss of form, retirement or myriad other factors separate from sport.
In 2012 McKenzie was jailed for six months, admitting six charges of perverting the course of justice after sending letters to police – pretending to be from a fictional garage – to avoid paying speeding fines, during a particularly severe spell of depression.
In court he first met Clarke Carlisle, the former PFA chairman who last week revealed the dark details of his own suicide attempt before Christmas. Carlisle wrote the foreword to McKenzie’s autobiography two years ago – a poignant read anyway but heightened given recent events – and said: “Although Leon’s circumstances were completely different to mine, his thoughts and feelings were almost identical to when I was at my lowest.”
McKenzie says: “I was so scared. I went into an A-category prison with murderers, rapists and paedophiles. I’m sharing a cell with these people – you think, really? But it is what it is. I went in there for a reason. The funny thing is I had so much respect in there. As a footballer I had some of the baddest people coming in and talking to me. One guy said: ‘I murdered seven people. What did you do?’
“My head was cloudy and I made some mistakes with a driving situation. I’d never been in trouble with the law. I made a mistake, I was stupid. I’m sure a lot of people have done that. But because I was in a high-profile sport I was made an example of. When you are depressed you don’t always think straight. You’re in a deep, isolated place.
“There is a form of ignorance within some people. It can happen to anyone, whether you are a top athlete or you work in a nine-to-five job. Living with it or living with someone who suffers from it, then you begin to understand. It’s very hard for someone to understand if you don’t live with it daily or you don’t have it close to you – loved ones. We’ve all got a trigger.”
McKenzie praised the PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, for personally assisting him during his troubles. However, he also questioned the level of structures in place to deal sufficiently with depression in the game, describing how players are often left to deal with problems alone. “It takes someone like Gary Speed’s profile and all of a sudden, the PFA included and the general public, started to listen. What about the people who aren’t high-profile and suffer just the same? What about them? Why has it got to take something high-profile for us to say: ‘OK, let’s do something now, let’s bring out pamphlets about depression.’
“Maybe money goes somewhere else, into places they feel is more sufficient and effective. There is a lot of money and there are a lot of people who earn a lot of money. I’m not saying they don’t do a good job but I do think they need to look at certain areas where it does save lives.
“I felt that when I called up the PFA and said: ‘What can I do to help players feel comfortable and come forward?’ it was just like passing the buck. The PFA have been fantastic with some of the things they have provided; Gordon Taylor himself has helped me out personally. That’s massive. But he can’t help everyone personally.”
For McKenzie, some days remain harder than others. He departs with a big fight at the forefront of his mind, one that provides routine, ambition and purpose. He will wrestle with a bigger fight for the rest of his life, an adversary that has dragged him to the depths, knocked him to the canvas, yet not beaten him.
“I’m a hell of a stronger person for knowing what I had and having it taken away. I go from scoring goals to scanning barcodes. Some mornings I come in and look around and go: ‘Wow,’ and sometimes I have a tear in my eye,” says McKenzie.
“But circumstances change. People say: ‘So you are all right now, Leon, because you’re doing well boxing-wise?’ I’m like ‘no’. I still suffer, but I have learned how to deal with it and how to recover. That’s the difference.”
Leon McKenzie knows that some people will read the story of his journey back to life and say: ‘£15,000 a week and you were depressed? Get over it.’
Professional footballers are fair game and he knows it, a price the public and the media expect him to pay for acting out our childhood fantasies.
McKenzie lived the high life at Norwich, Coventry and Charlton, squandering money on fast cars, gambling, nights out with the boys and a bitter, acrimonious divorce from his first wife.
But no-one really knows what goes on when footballers close their front doors, isolated from the rest of the world and wrestling with their insecurities. Fear. Injuries. Form. Confusion. Friendship. Cash. Fame. Wife. Family. Trust. Faith. McKenzie will tell you it swallowed him whole, leading to a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and 40-odd sleeping tablets in a hotel room in Bexleyheath.
The son of Clinton McKenzie, the former British light-welterweight champion, he grew up in south London and fought his way into the Crystal Palace first team. Leon was a dad at 19 and already there was confusion. The youth-team coach at Palace told the young striker he had ruined his career; the first-team manager Steve Coppell simply asked McKenzie if he was happy. ‘I was confused – someone at the club was telling me I’d made a mess of things and someone else was making sure I was happy. I was happy.’
He moved on to Peterborough in 2000, scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances under Barry Fry. Life was sweet. And then came the phone call from his mother that ripped his life apart.
‘My sister Tracey had called me a couple of days before. She said she wasn’t happy, she had an identity crisis. She had skin like me, she said she couldn’t fit in with her white friends, she couldn’t fit in with her black friends and it messed her up. I told her not to worry; I would be down to see her soon. Then my mum rang me, in tears. Gone. At 23.
‘My clubs taught me how to score goals, but I was a kid – they never taught me how to deal with something like that. The week after Tracey’s death, he played for Peterborough and carried on as if nothing had happened. That is what was expected of him. He got a move to Norwich and was in the team that won promotion to the Premier League. He formed a formidable strike partnership with Dean Ashton the following season. I was in a place where I didn’t want to be and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. In the dressing room I can be loud and aggressive, one of the boys, showing no sign of what’s really going on. Halfway through that Premier League season at Norwich I was getting divorced. I couldn’t see my children and they are my life. I used to go home, call my mum in tears. I was spending too much time alone. Divorce was another trigger. I spent a lot of money on it. It might have been my fault, but it didn’t feel fair. I didn’t have the best people around me. When things are going well they are by your side – I call them hangers-on. I’m generous and I was earning good money at Norwich. I lent people money because I thought, “If that is going to make you happy then I will give it to you”. But of course I never saw the money back.
He moved to Coventry in 2006, making a fresh start there after a turbulent, wretched final year spent injured at Norwich. Coventry gave him a pay rise, lining his pockets again after an expensive settlement with his ex-wife. ‘I had to start again. Then the injuries really set in. I broke my ankle at Norwich, but I got a thigh strain at Coventry and then I ruptured my Achilles. I never really got back from that. Then it started. “Ah, you’re injured again, you’re injury-prone”. Media, fans, the manager were all on my case.
People think you are paid thousands so you just get on with it. I love scoring goals, but it was being taken away from me. When you leave the training ground, who knows that I lost my sister, went through a divorce or worry that I will never play again?
When you play, the crowd expect you to score the winner – that’s why they worship you. That’s one reason it can make people depressed – you can’t always give them what they want.
He was desperate to prove himself again, signing for Charlton in 2009 when Phil Parkinson was in charge. He spent most of his time on the treatment table, riven with niggles that kept him away from the first team. Then he hit rock bottom.
I was in a hotel in Bexleyheath for four or five months, I wasn’t even training because I was injured all the time. My family were back in Northampton, my wife, my kids, my life. I wasn’t well, but I didn’t know it. I would sit there, crying for a couple of hours, not calling anyone, not having anyone to speak to. I thought it would pass, but it got worse. When you’re injured it’s a lonely world. ‘The manager brought me in and it didn’t work because I was injured. Sometimes they look at you in a certain way – but no-one means to be injured or to go through what I went through in my life.
As much as this is a business, we are all humans. I called my mum, crying, telling her it was driving me crazy. I didn’t know what to do, she started crying, and she hates seeing me like this. I told her I loved her loads and that it would be all right. Except he was not all right. He was on his own, alone with his thoughts and scared of a future without football. His darkest day. I felt I had done all the things I wanted to do in my life. Got married to my second wife, my kids, professional football, Premier League, scoring 100 goals. I was in a place where I didn’t want to be and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I wanted to end it, to end the pain. I got a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a load of sleeping pills and anti-inflammatories and must have knocked back 40 tablets.
He knew what he had done, calling his father Clinton in the moments before he spiralled out of control, stumbling around the room until he lost consciousness. I woke up in hospital in Dartford and my family were in tears. The doctors told me I was lucky, a couple more pills and that would be me done. I was lost, cut off from the outside world. I was numb, I didn’t know what to do any more, but I knew I wasn’t happy and I don’t know why. I just knew my career was coming to an end and I couldn’t handle everything else that was going on in my life. The hospital let me go that day; they told me I was lucky to be alive. I felt terrible.’ He drove straight to training at Charlton and did not tell a soul.
Two years on and McKenzie was determined to pass on the benefit of his experience, challenging himself and channelling his emotions in the direction of young players.
McKenzie had professional counselling, accepting help after he realised the full extent of his actions.
He started to work with the PFA, offering guidance and one-on-one talks with players about the problems facing footballers. I hit rock bottom. I was scared to own up to feeling depressed because it’s a male, macho environment and you’re not supposed to show any weakness.
‘Now I know that the bravest thing to do is to call for help – that is strength.
‘There is no-one for the players to speak with. They need someone they can relate to, passing on the benefit of their experience.
‘In sport we don’t trust anyone. I can count my friends on one hand now. Some of the top guys in the Premier League will be suffering depression, but if they knew they had someone to talk to, they could find help.
‘People will say, “Oh, he’s on £200,000 a week, get on with it”, but that kind of money creates its own pressure. I lost money, I gambled, I got divorced and then I tried to take my own life. I look back and regret what I did, but others cannot say the same.’
Leon lives at home with wife Sofia and two of his children (the other two are in Norwich with his first wife), planning a successful life away from football. In a few weeks he will retire, calling family and friends to Kettering to watch him play one last time.
Like the rest of the squad, he is unpaid. He is concentrating on his future. He loves music, finding a talent for singing, and is about to release a record, Feel the Flow. That’s his passion, spending time in the recording studio and funding the project that will lead to a music video and EP. He is enjoying life again, free from the treatment table and full of enthusiasm
Stan Collymore has been open about his own depression. The former Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Aston Villa striker had been struck down with another severe bout and through a series of Tweets, tried to throw some light on how he feels during his darkest days. Collymore, 40, revealed this is the worst bout for several years and spends days in bed without even opening his c He has been signed off from his presenting job at radio station talkSPORT.
Collymore, during another sleepless night, went into much more detail as he Tweeted ‘It’s 4:48am in the morning (Sat 26th Nov 2011), and I’m wide awake. ‘I decided to Tweet my own personal experience of my latest bout of depression yesterday, and firstly wanted to thank the hundreds of messages from friends, journalists, mental health workers, doctors, and sufferers, as well as well-wishers. ‘It’s very humbling to read the stories of fellow sufferers, links to blogs, and general experiences of this awful illness.
‘I want to elaborate on what depression is for me, as the illness has so many facets, and varies from bout to bout, that it can be hard to explain to a fellow sufferer, never mind someone fortunate enough to have never been afflicted!
‘I keep myself in really good nick, I run 10k every week day, and only go to the gym or exercise at weekends, when I commentate on football for talkSPORT. The running I find really has helped massively, as I’m sure you guys that suffer who exercise find, the tangible release of calm, and ‘being on top of things’ powers your internal dynamo, and keeps the black dog from the door.’
Collymore goes on to explain how he became anxious and the anxiety grew into fear. He hardly slept for three days but then had no energy and went to 18 hours overnight. He talks about being ‘unable to lift my head from the pillow, feeling like my body had been drained of any life, my brain full and foggy, and a body that felt like it was carrying an anvil around.’ He added: ‘So fit and healthy one day, mind, body and soul withering and dying the next. This to me is the most frightening of experiences, and one fellow sufferers I’m sure will agree is the ‘thud’ that sets the depression rolling.
‘Once it hits, then cause and effect start to kick in. I sleep 18 hours a day, so I don’t see sunlight over sometime a period of a week (my worst ever bout, I spent a month in bed), which I’m sure a doctor then would tell me makes the body shut down even further. ‘My personal world grows smaller, I detach from friends and family, partly out of self-preservation, partly not wanting them to see the man bounding around days ago, now looks visibly older, weaker and pathetic. ‘I eat less, my personal space gets smaller, none of the vain grooming of days before, as bathing, washing, and even going to the loo seem almost impossible. ‘So it’s me, pyjamas, bed and increasingly despairing thoughts of how long this one will last, a tired, desperately tired but wildly active mind burns through its own blue touch paper until the paper ends, and there is simply nothing left. ‘That’s the point when the practicality sets in, and not a nice one (and incredible to think when you finally get well).
‘Suicidal thoughts. Thankfully I’ve not got to that part yet, and in my last 10 years only once or twice has this practical reality entered my head, and practicality it is, unpalatable the thought may be too many. ‘Why a practicality? Well, if your mind is empty, your brain ceases to function, your body is pinned to the bed, the future is a dark room, with no light, and this is your reality, it takes a massive leap of faith to know that this time next week, life could be running again, smiling, my world big and my brain back as it should be. ‘So what do some do? They don’t take the leap of faith, they address a practical problem with a practical solution to them, and that is taking their own life. And sadly, too many take that route out of this hell.’
Collymore describes how typing his words is a struggle but is determined to go on because ‘there are so many going through this that need to know it’s an illness, just an illness.’
He adds: ‘Not bad, mad, crazy or weak, just ill, and that with this particular illness, for its sufferers, for family and friends who are there but feel they can’t help, you can! ‘Patience, time, kindness and support. That’s all we need. No “pull your socks up”, no “get out of bed you lazy git”, just acknowledge the feedback the sufferer gives, get them to go to the GP asap, and help them do the little things bit by bit.’
The first sign that something was awry came during the striker’s playing days at Aston Villa. Prior to an FA Cup fixture against Fulham in 1999, Collymore went AWOL, prompting his then manager John Gregory to ask what, when he was earning £20,000-a-week, he was depressed about. After leaving Villa Park, despite numerous attempts, his career never really recovered. The former England striker, now a radio presenter, said the world had changed since he was branded a “disgrace” for revealing he suffered from the problem in 1998. His Villa manager John Gregory questioned what he could be depressed about as he earned a reported £20,000-a-week. “People couldn’t understand it when outwardly they thought I had everything – to them I was living the dream,” Collymore said.
Collymore, a boyhood Villa fan, signed for the club for a record £7 million fee from Liverpool in 1997. But he was frequently at loggerheads with Gregory, who shipped him out on loan to Fulham. “He had plenty of opportunity here,” Gregory said of the player in July, 1999. “I’m the third or fourth manager he’s had in the last four years and we’ve all ended up pulling our hair out. “He returned for pre-season training with the promises I had heard before. “As a manager you can only do so much for a player; you cannot wet-nurse him.”
Cricketer Yardy flew home from the 2011 World Cup during the knock out stages to get help with depression. Being away from home for long periods of time, away from family and close friends can have a negative impact on certain personality types.
Hero of the 2005 Ashes who had to leave two England tours due to the illness and also returned home from India during Somerset’s autumn trip there. It’s hard to explain but you can’t sleep, you can’t focus or concentrate on things during the day and, when you pull all that together, it creates one big storm. I considered hurting myself to show people how much pain I was in. I spoke at first to the doctor who was travelling with the team. I told him something wasn’t quite right, I didn’t feel right.
I was taking sleeping tablets and they weren’t working, I couldn’t eat or drink and, obviously, being in India that was a big problem. It quickly manifested itself after two or three days. After telling someone, two or three days later I thought, ‘I can’t stay here any longer’.
My first reaction was, ‘I’m ill. I’ve got cancer or something’. I knew something wasn’t right. There were moments when I was fielding in Australia — the second time it happened — and I went to the toilet, walked off and that was it,
I crashed out the back. I still get heaps of letters and 90 per cent of them are about coming back from India and depression. I have a lot of sympathy for people who become suicidal from it. It must be a totally desperate situation that they feel they have no other way out. Only the people who suffer with the illness really understand it. It’s important for people to know that it’s not a weakness in people, it’s an illness.
Former All Blacks winger who is part of a depression awareness campaign. It just comes on you and it squeezes everything. Your heart races, you panic. People see people who they think are super-human or super lucky and the good income that often comes with top-level sport. But that doesn’t matter with your mental wellbeing. I was very lucky I didn’t get suicidal. How bad did I get? I was in bed all day crying, shaking. The depression becomes such an important focus of your life. I remember waking up feeling great one morning and you think, ‘Oh, why don’t I feel bad?’ and then it comes on you like a cloud. Getting help, for someone like me who saw getting help as a weakness, was a big step. I did an awareness campaign and that first step was really difficult for me. I thought people were going to think I was mad. Then, after I was lining up to watch the All Blacks play in 2005, a guy came up beside me in a suit and he said: ‘I’m an accountant, I’m 35. If it wasn’t for you, I’d be dead. Thank you very much,’ and walked away. I was stunned but I thought, ‘if I can help one person, what’s the real risk?’.
Olympic 800m and 1500m champion who hit rock-bottom before turning her career around. I just came to the end of my hope. I felt depressed and I cut myself with scissors and I got desperate for things to go right for once. Everything in my life at the time was wrong. When you’re in it, you don’t see a way out.
Former heavyweight boxing champion who was sectioned at the worst of his depression. Sometimes you get agitated, you pick arguments, you get aggressive, your mood changes. Unfortunately for me, I got sectioned. Five or 10 years ago, people would cross the street if you had the illness. They thought you were like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. You’re only human at the end of the day. Top sports people may have more money than you, more cars than you but they’ve still got to go to the toilet, brush their teeth, put on their clothes. My trainer, George Francis, once said to me that the hardest fight would be when I retire. I didn’t understand what he meant. But when you’re used to getting up at seven o’clock in the morning, going running, to the gym, sparring, doing press conferences, after-parties, retiring is the worst thing that can ever happen to a sportsman. Being busy all the time, you’re pumped up, hyped up but after you feel so, so empty it’s untrue. I did some crazy and weird things. The pressure of everything going around just led to confusion. I felt ashamed when the ambulances came. Everybody knew what was going on apart from me. Bruno has said the worst thing is trying to fill long, empty days that were previously mapped out with fierce training regimes.
Former Celtic captain whose family have also been affected. Being depressed is one thing, having depression is another. It’s an illness. The reaction of a lot of players was, ‘What’s he got to be depressed about?’ but it’s not about that, it’s an illness. My two sisters, my mother and some aunts and uncles have also been through it. Until you’ve experienced it yourself, you can’t really explain it to someone. I was just vacant. People think strong, young men shouldn’t be depressed. But if you have the flu, you take something for it. If you have a broken leg, you take something for it. If you have depression, you go see someone to get something for it. It’s the worst period of your life you can go through. I guarantee you can take on anything after that. When you come out the other side, you feel a stronger person. You enjoy your life so much more. Everything in life is a bonus now.
An 11-time Grand Slam tennis champion who struggled after the death of her sister, Yetunde. I felt so much like the world was closing in on me. I couldn’t breathe. I needed space. When I have no pressure, that’s when I play my best. I needed to take some time out to figure out Serena and make Serena happy, and I’ve never looked back.
”I definitely have not been happy,” Williams said. “Especially when I had that second (foot) surgery, I was definitely depressed. ‘I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around.” Williams said that a part of her lung had ”died” from the pulmonary embolism and that she remained on blood thinning medication. She added that she is due to have further scans in three weeks to see if the clots are melting and with her health issues still not resolved is understandably coy about a possible return date. ”I don’t know what’s realistic. I really don’t know. I haven’t put a date on it yet,” she told USA Today. ”I just want to make sure I can breathe when I’m out there.” Williams is confident, however, that when she does return to the court she will be able to recapture the form that has made her arguably the best player of her generation. ”I know how to play tennis. I’ve been doing it for a long time – longer than I can say. So I figure that will work out,” she added. ”I always think I’m going to play again and I’m going to be faster, I’m going to be better, I’m going to be smarter, wiser.”