Jonathan Trott: a personal perspective

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England's Jonathan Trott. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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In mid-2011 I suffered a mental breakdown which resulted in me resigning from my dream job of 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC and subsequently making an attempt on my life.

Hence, I have great empathy with the plight that is currently facing England batsman Jonathan Trott – although I hasten to add it would appear he is not in the same dire space I was a few years ago.

Nonetheless he is currently suffering mental health issues and according to team management it is something he has had to battle with for quite some time.

For England, Trott’s departure from the current tour marks the third such occurrence in recent times.

Opening batsman Marcus Trescothick was forced to head home from the tours of India in 2005-06 and the Ashes series of 2006-07, while left-arm spinner Michael Yardy left the 2011 World Cup on the sub-continent ahead of time – both citing mental health issues as the reason.

Sadly, both men never represented their country again, a fate that hopefully won’t beset Trott.

In recent times we have seen an increase in the number of sportspeople who have publicly admitted to their struggles with mental health issues – as has been the case in the general population as well.

For a long time such public utterances from those within the sporting world were viewed as a sign of weakness.

Too often mental health issues carry with them a significant stigma that is associated with weakness which, in essence, is the antithesis of what many people believe top flight sport is all about.

To admit to such struggles publicly has long been an issue for top sportspeople.

Thankfully, as more come forward and speak of their battles there has been a growing understanding of the issue within sport, and by extrapolation, society itself.

It is estimated by specialists in the field that as many as 20 percent of the population will suffer some form of depression or mental illness in their lifetime.

Sport is by no means immune to this regardless of the oft held belief that those who partake at the very highest levels are somewhat superhuman.

In fact, given the pressures of elite sport where your every move is laid bare for the public to see there is a belief garnered from numerous studies that there may in fact be a higher proportion of mental health issues in that area when compared to the general population.

Cricketers operate in a sport that is incredibly objective when it comes to making judgments with respect to the participant’s performance levels.

The major statistical information that governs the sport is in fact based on averages – a figure that by its very essence indicates where you sit within the sport performance wise, especially when it comes to comparisons with your contemporaries.

Few sports have such objective, quantifiable and finite ways of measuring success or failure.

Perhaps the closest to mirror cricket in this regard is baseball when it comes to raw statistical data that can be used to define performance.

Frighteningly, a study in the United States found that the rate of suicide among baseballers is approximately 2.5 times greater than the country’s male population.

While performance data is not necessarily the only information that governs the minds of selectors and coaches when it comes to assembling a team it is the primary source of judgement that is relied upon by the fans in discussions – if not arguments – over a player’s worth.

Sport at the highest level is by nature played before large, judgemental audiences – on seats at the stadium or on lounge chairs at home.

The level of scrutiny is beyond that which most of the population experiences with perhaps the most allied area of employment being politics.

Very few people’s work ethic and associated successes and failures are put under the microscope more than elite sportspeople.

Many elite level sports require its participants to be away from family and loved ones for large periods – cricket is right up there in that regard which can be another factor when it comes to mental health issues.

Just as the level of scrutiny of top sportspeople is a very public thing so too is the process of recovery that some have to undergo when it all becomes too much for them.

Knowing that the world is watching and waiting to see how you bounce back from publicised mental health issues is an additional burden that the average person does not have to face.

I can attest from personal experience that while the vast majority of people are genuine in their questions and support the fact that the public enquires so frequently as to your progress can be particularly draining.

Initially it took me time to want to talk about it publicly as it is a very personal journey that you are on.

But it is one in the 21st century that none of us should be embarrassed or ashamed about for like any illness it is non-discriminatory, and as such, I am very open about my condition and to date doing so has never caused me any problems whatsoever.

Mental health issues have affected Prime Ministers and paupers and everyone in between.

There is nothing more abnormal about mental illness than there is about having cancer or diabetes.

It is just that in the area of sport admitting to it can be more difficult.

I spend most of my time nowadays travelling around Western Australia doing mental health and suicide prevention talks.

Along the way I have met some wonderfully quintessential Australians from all walks of life who have had the black dog as a companion at some stage during their lives.

For almost all who have sought help there has been a solution.

The first step on that journey of personal renewal is the need to take ownership of your condition and to admit that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Failure to do that will lead to the problem becoming further ingrained and problematic.

Jonathan Trott has acknowledged that fact and in his case the entire cricketing world will become aware of it.

He has done the right thing by heading home to face it head-on in concert with family and medicos.

What he needs is unqualified support from those around him as he looks to overcome his problem.

There will no doubt be some who will take to social media and conjure up all sorts of jokes and jibes – there always is when things of this nature occur.

Sadly, they often need help themselves.

There should be no shame or embarrassment apportioned to anyone who admits publicly to having a mental health problem.

Like all illnesses, support is one of the key facets that can help aid recovery.

Personally, as a fellow traveller, I wish Jonathan Trott all the very best.

His decision to tackle his condition head-on should serve as an inspiration to others.

Hopefully he will make a speedy recovery and return to the crease so we can all enjoy watching his skill with the willow once again.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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