Jonathan Trott: a personal perspective

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    Jonathan Trott has returned to the England fold, although questions still linger. (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.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    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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    The Crowd Says (119)

    • November 26th 2013 @ 7:54am
      JimmyB said | November 26th 2013 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      Great article Glenn and good on you sir.

      • Columnist

        November 26th 2013 @ 10:44am
        Glenn Mitchell said | November 26th 2013 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        Thank you Jimmy and thank you to all those below who have appreciated this article. Hopefully in the near future as a society we will not see someone admitting to mental health issues any differently to stating they have cancer or diabetes. Nobody chooses mental illness and the same with any other ailment, disease or illness. More power to people like Jonathan Trott, who by being honest about his condition, is helping destygmatize one of the great myths – that mental illness is a sign of weakness.

        • Roar Guru

          November 26th 2013 @ 12:28pm
          Simon said | November 26th 2013 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

          Thank-you for your honesty and humility, Glenn. Mental issues are serious, and I believe that society is beginning to treat it as such.

          I certainly miss hearing your voice on Grandstand but your articles on here are always fantastic.

          • November 26th 2013 @ 2:50pm
            Chui said | November 26th 2013 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

            Nah, Karen’s voice is much nicer 🙂

          • November 26th 2013 @ 11:09pm
            vocans said | November 26th 2013 @ 11:09pm | ! Report

            + 1 and your video wraps on the test carried on the roar were special.

        • November 26th 2013 @ 3:27pm
          Kasey said | November 26th 2013 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

          Glenn,
          Thanks for your article. The scars of mental illness are no less debilitating just because they aren’t open and obvious for others to see as the balding head and sunken cheekbones of a mid-treatment cancer patient. In some ways they are harder
          to overcome than your garden variety ailment due to the jibes and the like you refer to which I call the stigma of mental illness. As a cancer survivor, I was unaware that in some parts of the world a similar stigma existed over cancer. Organisations such as LiveStrong and the Cancer Council running awareness campaigns of just how prevalent Cancer is have almost eradicated this stigma in the first world. I believe people such as yourself writing first person testimony such as this can help achieve the same for mental aflictions. Thank you for your contribution.

        • November 26th 2013 @ 9:04pm
          Simoc said | November 26th 2013 @ 9:04pm | ! Report

          Well Glenn,
          Is what you are saying fully accurate? It may be so but over a number of years I am advised you threatened to resign or offered it when you didn’t get your way. Then one time it was accepted. There is no fault attached but we all act in the moment . I think you should be at the ABC leading the commentary team because for me you can paint the picture of what is happening in the moment and undoubtebly the best commentator we have had after Dennis Commetti and Jim Maxwell does none of that.

          I think most humans think they are bullet proof and when a mental condition hits it floors you. As my doctor said to me. Now you can join the other 99% of society with a mental problem.

      • November 26th 2013 @ 1:08pm
        Disco said | November 26th 2013 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        +1

    • November 26th 2013 @ 7:58am
      eagleJack said | November 26th 2013 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      Fantastic, honest piece Glenn.

      It still amazes me that the views of guys like Mike Caxton (who asked whether Trott’s parents had been in a car crash or whether his daughter had been diagnosed with cancer) still exist, but thankfully they are very much in the minority.

      Australian men have grown past the “take a cup of concrete” mentality and realised that mental health is a very serious issue that can affect absolutely anybody. And our heroes on the sporting field are far from immune. As you rightly point out Glenn it stands to reason that they could in fact be at a higher risk due to not only the severe highs and lows they experience on a weekly basis, but the fact they are heavily scrutinised every waking moment. Often there is nowhere to hide.

      I hope we one day see Trott grace our shores again. However, his road to recovery will be a long and arduous one. I wish him well.

    • Columnist

      November 26th 2013 @ 8:02am
      Brett McKay said | November 26th 2013 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Great, honest perspective Glenn, thanks so much for sharing your story again.

      I have to admit, as soon as I heard the news of Trott, I felt a pang of guilt over the way I’d commented on an analysed Trott’s dismissals in Brisbane. Of course there’s no way I could have know what was going on, but that was the first feeling I had.

      Hopefully Jonathan Trott can get all the help he needs..

      • Roar Rookie

        November 26th 2013 @ 8:51am
        josh said | November 26th 2013 @ 8:51am | ! Report

        I think that’s an important point. People commentating on people’s judgement on Trott performance prior to this admission, is as bad as people having a go at Trott. You can’t apply hindsight and be holier than thou. If every had known be they Warner, Vaughan, the Australian and Engish press. I would think their comments would have been different.

      • November 26th 2013 @ 10:48am
        astro said | November 26th 2013 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        Makes me wonder how many other ‘struggling’ batsmen or bowlers were actually struggling as much off the field as on it!

        • November 26th 2013 @ 10:59am
          fadida said | November 26th 2013 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          yep, but we never know until years down the track, because mental “weaknesses” (which is what they’d be accused of) and sport aren’t seen to be compatible

        • November 27th 2013 @ 11:40am
          roger said | November 27th 2013 @ 11:40am | ! Report

          As weird as this sounds when I think of that I think of someone like Phil Hughes. All the talent in the world but there is some serious confidence issues there that run deeper then what it appears. Just by watching him he seems to have certain traits that always make me wonder if there’s something there we don’t know…

    • November 26th 2013 @ 8:05am
      Freddy from Bondi said | November 26th 2013 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      Great article Glenn!

      Today’s front page of the Daily Telegraph is digraceful! How can ‘journos’ trvialise mental illness like that?!

      To see the potential effects of depression in sport all you need to do is Google ‘Robert Enke’…this shouldnt be taken lightly…its a very high pressure world these blokes live in! Best wishes to Trott and again…shame on the Daily Telegraph!

      PS-Did anyone else see the tweet from David Warner’s brother before it was deleted?! He and his brother are knobs of the highest variety!

      • Roar Guru

        November 26th 2013 @ 8:21am
        JGK said | November 26th 2013 @ 8:21am | ! Report

        After the DT’s hatchet job on Nathan Rees last week, little would surprise me about how low that rag will stoop.

      • November 26th 2013 @ 12:32pm
        Andrew said | November 26th 2013 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        +1 on both counts Freddy, although par for the course for both the Tele and the Warners unfortunately.

        • November 26th 2013 @ 1:09pm
          Disco said | November 26th 2013 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

          Indeed. Despicable.

    • November 26th 2013 @ 8:22am
      ciudadmarron said | November 26th 2013 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Great article Glenn, thankyou for sharing.

      Just want to point out these comments to anyone arguing (without knowing ANY details) that this is “just stress” or what have you:

      “The chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, which represents players in England and Wales, said Trott’s exit was not necessarily linked to criticism of his performances.

      “This problem wasn’t caused by an Aussie player sledging Jonathan on the pitch, or indeed by anything that was said in a press conference,” said Angus Porter.

      “This is a serious illness relating probably to chemical imbalances in the brain.””

      Also, I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed about criticising his playing performance. If he was open about the situation, and still playing, would he expect less criticism from people in case they upset him? As Glenn alluded to, one of the issues with being open about a mental illness is that people treat you differently, which is not necessarily what anyone wants. Professional sportsmen and women will be under scrutiny for their performances. The real issue is how people are treated outside of their performance – and some of the comments (haven’t seen the DT headline but I can only imagine) are disgraceful.

    • Roar Guru

      November 26th 2013 @ 8:26am
      Will Sinclair said | November 26th 2013 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Obviously, the primary concern here should be for Jonathan Trott.

      I only hope he can go home and get the support and treatment he needs, and is back playing the game again soon.

      All the best, Jonathan.

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