Mental health is an issue for sport, not just cricket

The news in November of England Cricket batsman Jonathon Trott’s departure from the Ashes tour of Australia, due to a long standing stress related illness, was labelled by some members of the media as a ‘shock’, whereas others speculated whether cricket has a problem, with the news coming in the wake of fellow England cricketers Marcus Trescothick and Graeme Fowler’s own battles with depression.

Jonathan Trott's stress-related illness has been well documented, but mental health complications are not just an issue in cricket

With other sporting legends such as boxer Frank Bruno and Olympic medallists Dame Kelly Holmes and Victoria Pendleton, disclosing their battles with mental ill-health, however, perhaps it is more prudent to examine the pressures of the elite athlete identity and what can be done to support those in this ‘privileged’ position, than propose an issue solely located within the culture of cricket.

Athletic Identity: Hercules’ Muscles or Achilles Heel?

When we consider that one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem in the course of a year due to the pressures and demands of everyday life, is it really surprising that elite athletes, with their own unique pressures to consistently perform, potential to over-train, burnout and body perfectionism, are at risk of developing psychological difficulties too? Or, as icons of physical perfection, do we unfairly assume that they have equitable superhuman mental strength and endurance as well?

And what happens when the elite athlete is no longer an elite athlete? When they have been dropped from the team, are injured or retire? When the elite athlete identity, formed by a lifetime of early morning starts, gruelling training schedules and countless social sacrifices, is no longer applicable, what is the impact on self-esteem and psychological well-being?

Psychology offers some helpful models in understanding why some athletes may develop psychological difficulties, such as the diathesis-stress model of psychopathology or role identity and loss theories, but are they being drawn upon? Sport psychologists’ knowledge of motivational models and visualisation techniques have been bettering athletes’ performance for decades; however, the expertise that clinical psychologists have to offer on maintaining the wellbeing, with the potential to prolong careers, has yet to be fully utilised in the field of sport.

Coaches: Protectors or part of the problem?

Within clinical psychology we know that early detection and intervention of mental health problems can prevent longer-term adverse effects, which has led some researchers to suggest that sports coaches are well positioned to identify those individuals who may be experiencing the early stages of psychological distress and to signpost them to appropriate support. They may also play a protective role against mental health difficulties for athletes, providing a source of support and guidance for athletes, who can find themselves isolated by long international tours, training camps and hours on the track, field or pitch.

Does the career success of a coach, which is reliant on the competitive success of the athlete, however, lead to unhelpful pressures on the relationship or even a culture of complicit denial of such issues by coaches and sporting bodies?

What are your views?

Are you an athlete who can identify with these issues, whether in yourself or others? Are you a coach who feels that more should be done to support athletes in this way, or that there is already adequate support for athletes? I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts as part of an online research project to gain a greater understanding of these issues and the role clinical psychology has to play.

By Isobelle Biggin

If you would like to know more about this research project, or are a coach or athlete and would like to participate, please contact Isobelle: ibigginresearch@gmail.com

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One comment on “Mental health is an issue for sport, not just cricket

  1. I have been researching for sometime now regarding the extent of mental health issues within sport and have been alarmed by my findings.
    I have been a mental health professional for over seventeen years working in various settings giving me a good insight into the positives and negatives relating to intervention.
    I feel sports psychology can play a vital role in maintaining the wellbeing of sports woman and men but not in isolation.
    it is far too common in all areas of mental health that intervention are reactive rather than proactive. Stigma is still at the forefront despite the amazing efforts of the Time For change charity and continues to hinder individual’s abilities to talk openly about their issues.
    Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing yet this is still missing the radars of sporting organisations. How many more lives need to be lost before attitudes change in addressing these issues. The ECB seem to be aiming to address these issues yet other areas still have a closed door attitude in discussing mental health.
    I have met with Jon Thaxton a local professional boxer who has been keen to talk about issues within boxing, which potentially is a massive step forwards.
    Statistics as far as I am concerned are not useful or helpful one in four is the recorded average but still the required level of support and intervention is not in place.
    I will continue to network and battle for the necessary interventions to be available for all that require it no matter what the statistics are. I am truly passionate and driven to succeed.

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