Psychotherapists, counsellors and related health professionals in Western Sydney are bracing for a massive downturn in demand for their services if the Parramatta Eels end the longest premiership drought in the NRL’s history, as some are predicting.
Clinics, which have flourished in the area over the past 34 years, face the very real prospect of mass redundancies if the Eels do finally deliver another grand final victory, the first since 1986.
The need for mental health support services in the Cumberland area has been above average for the past three decades, and in the early 1990s, researchers first discovered the common denominator across 75 per cent of patients: being a follower of the Parramatta Eels. This led researchers to formally identify a group of conditions known as ‘Parrasad-Syndrome’ (Parramatta Supporter Acute Distress Syndrome).
The syndrome was found to be seasonal and generally characterised in the early stages (around March or April each year) by extreme optimism bias, irrational confidence and selective amnesia about past traumatic memories. However, after several months, and by no later than the start of October (and sometimes much earlier), Parrasad typically mutates into a deep melancholy and despair, and a sense of denial followed by deep-seated anger.
In severe cases, paranoid delusions and conspiracy-theory disorders may also present.
As research progressed, a community awareness campaign in the late 1990s led to thousands of sufferers coming forward. The worst outbreaks occurred in 1998, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2018, with bad outbreaks every other year since 1986. However, there are signs that 2020 may be the year that Parrasad is finally eradicated, and the resultant economic impact on those who have for so long cared for Eels supporters may be devastating.
Dr C, an experienced psychiatrist specialising in Parrasad admitted it was a bittersweet prospect to have a whole demographic liberated from the condition, while knowing it may affect his livelihood. The Baulkham Hills professional spoke about his pride and satisfaction for over 30 years in supporting that disadvantaged part of the community unfortunate enough to be long-term Eels fans. Dr C welcomed the thought of sufferers being released from their condition as he recounted patients he had treated.
One was Neil* who first came to see him a few days after the 2001 grand final. “Parrasad-01 was very severe, and I’ll never forget this poor gentleman’s initial traumatic therapy session. Neil was just sitting on the floor of my clinic wearing his Blue and Gold jersey. He was curled up in a fetal position, gently rocking back and forth humming the tune of “Click go the shears” and whispering “no more Joey, no, please stop Joey, no more horror” over and over again. It was heartbreaking! Neil spent years in therapy”, Dr C recalled.
Another very sad case, Andy*, presented at an Ermington Psychologists Clinic days after the Eels inexplicably surrendered an 18-2 lead with ten minutes to go in the 1998 preliminary final, to lose to Canterbury in extra time. A lifelong Eels member, Andy’s wife and children had left him after he burned their house down while trying to set fire to his Parramatta jersey.
Andy’s misfortune was compounded when fire insurance assessors denied his compensation claim based on the policy definition of “accident”, leading him on a downward spiral into Parrasad. Only after years of counselling was Andy able to regain stability and be reconciled with his family, on the proviso that he could never again own an Eels jersey.
Craig*, a middle-aged survivor of Parrasad was able to candidly recount the dark and disturbing days he experienced after the preliminary final of 2005: “It was all a blur that night after the Cowboys blew us off the park! My wife told me later that I had just started sobbing uncontrollably at full time. I apparently locked myself in our bedroom refusing to eat or drink or allow any family members to enter for days on end. When police finally broke down the door after 13 days, they found me severely malnourished and expressionless, watching video replays of the 1981, 82, 83 and 86 grand finals on continual repeat”.
After a long stint in rehabilitation, Craig now leads a relatively normal life. His symptoms are managed by regular therapy group meetings with other Parrasad sufferers that have taught him resilience. The workshops, provided free of charge by local area health services, address topics like the danger of unrealistic expectations, anger management, releasing the past and dealing with disappointment. Craig is also able to ring a crisis hotline on a Monday morning if he knows he is descending into a Parrasad episode.
A spokesperson for the Cumberland Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists said: “We recognise that our professionals have been very fortunate to have been needed and appreciated by the Eels supporter community in a consistent and ongoing way over a very long time. However, if that need were to disappear this year, then while we would welcome the permanent flattening of the Parrasad curve, it would be devastating for our services’ viability. So if that transpires, we will be approaching the Federal Government for a special Jobkeeper support package to ensure the survival of our clinics, at least until the next NRL season.”
When asked what will happen if the Eels don’t win the decider in 2020, the spokesperson simply added: “In that case, we will be putting on extra staff, and preparing for the usual October surge”.
*Names used with permission
Author’s Note: Mental health issues are serious, and this article in no way seeks to downplay them. However, as a long-suffering Parramatta fan, humour has been big part of my coping mechanism over the years!