IF YOU, like me, have never suffered the debilitating weight of depression, it can be a hard concept to truly comprehend.
This week the Advertiser has run a series of pieces on the dark side of football – the mental struggles behind closed doors we rarely see, almost never hear about and as a result find it difficult to get our heads around.
Vincent Pericard and Martin Ling have both been through the torment of the condition; a disease which doesn’t show itself, breeds on silence and spreads savagely through a victim’s psyche like a rabid virus.
They both have come out the other side, thanks in no small part to the willingness of those around them to adapt to their situations and offer the sympathy and support they needed.
With cancer, AIDs, addiction and every other all-consuming, life-altering illness filed under nature’s most hideous crafts, connecting to an individual’s circumstance is much easier. Not easy, don’t get me wrong. Easier.
Depression and anxiety is a crazed assassin that thrives on whispers and whimpers, and in football circles – where weakness is unacceptable – it can regenerate with alarming consequence.
Speaking to Vincent and Martin as I put together these pieces, I found myself open-mouthed at the destructive effect these diseases can cause and how, in an industry like football, you or I can be unwitting accomplices.
Sport provides a framework for depression to thrive. It’s always in the public eye, susceptible to immense criticism from a massive audience, and the demand for success often clouds people’s judgements. We don’t ask ‘what is the effect of my words on this player’. Evidently, from the examples we’ve put before you this week, that can kick-start a savage cycle of events which, once off and running, can race out of control like an unmanned train.
That’s not to say footballers, and other sportsmen and women for that matter, should not have their performances scrutinised. They are there for a purpose – to entertain – and in an entertainment industry the critic is king.
But both Vincent and Martin make a point that balanced views, considered arguments and constructive thinking are much more responsible courses of action – not heat-of-the-moment tirades, off-the-cuff remarks and sensationalism.
I’ve been guilty of all three in the not-so-distant past. I’m sure you have too. You don’t contemplate how a footballer might react, particularly in the modern age of social media, because quite often they appear detached from reality operating as they are in an elite bubble, more shielded from the public eye today than they ever have been.
So what’s the answer? Frankly, I don’t think there is one. Vincent and Martin were both at pains to stress that understanding depression is ultimately nigh-on impossible for those who haven’t experienced it. But one fifth of the population each year does, in one form or another, and maybe it’s time we listened to what they have to say, learnt from their experiences and adapted ourselves accordingly.
Without that mutual cooperation, a support network cannot exist. Criticism must and will always remain but it’s easier to jump for the jugular than consider all the factors which may contribute to a downturn in form from a striker or a series of goalkeeping clangers. It’s easy, too.
It’s not a simple transition - human instinct points a finger at everyone else before turning it on ourselves – but it’s a transition that must be made if we are ever going to even try to understand the complexities of mental illness, depression and anxiety.
For as long as there is silence, they will continue to breed.