Mental health in sports is real. The public see successful sports stars as strong people both mentally and physically and yes, that’s what the majority of us want to believe and want the general public to believe, but it not always the case.
There are many athletes who suffer with mental health, whether that be depression or due to certain circumstances or a longer underlying issue. Sometimes this can be because of under achieving, feeling lonely and worthless or not feeling fulfilled even when you perform to your maximum.
I’ve had the privilege of picking several sporting legends’ brains on certain topics and what I found interesting is that a couple of athletes who have reached the very top simply don't feel like their achievements are as great as they actually are. They realised that reaching the top in sport actually doesn't change real life issues. This can be particularly problematic because they have given everything to succeed and when they get there, it actually makes little difference to their life outside of the sporting world. Yes, they may have more money in the bank but apart from that life is the same.
I haven't really spoken publicly about issues I have had to face, but I have done some ambassador work for Crohns and Colitis UK since being diagnosed in 2013. Anyone with Crohns and Colitis or anyone who knows of people with the condition(s) will know it is not just a physical illness. It can cause a lot of depression and doubts too, and just because I am an athlete I am no different.
In 2016 I was in a good place physically and mentally, first competition went to plan and I was on track to reach my second Olympics in Rio. An injury and other factors then caused my mental state to become dislodged and unfocused on the task at hand, I became unable to motivate myself to do anything - not just my sport. Getting out of bed became difficult and if I could sleep 4-5 hours a night I was doing well. Turning up to competitions where people would want to interact with me and show interest in me was a nightmare scenario. I would have no focus what so ever on the competition and even when I would lose or underperform, I would be cold, it wouldn't affect me. Anyone who knows me well knows I am very competitive and failing at something drives me. I like to fight, battle and succeed, but all those traits I’ve had since I was a child were gone and I was just a shadow of myself. Luckily, I have great friends, family and a support team around me who I fully trust, I was able to open up and get the right support to put me back on track and in a position where I am hungry and focused on repaying the support by winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
I know it isn't easy for us big, tough guys with big egos to open up and admit there is an issue, but if you had a torn muscle or a broken bone you would get that seem to and addressed, right? So, ask yourself this, why is there as different mindset when it’s a mental illness?
I strongly advise you check out 'brotectors' whether you have a mental illness or not and become familiar with what they are trying to do. ‘brotectors’ is a great place for males to interact with like-minded people with similar issues. You are able to remain anonymous if you are more comfortable opening up without revealing your identification.
I hope this small article can help raise a little awareness and make people with mental health issues realise it doesn't make you weak or a bad person to admit you have a problem. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the world who are suffering the same as you are and can still be successful. Everyone is different but from my own experience the saying 'a problem shared is a problem halved' is most certainly true. As soon as I opened up and sought help, the problem and embarrassment seemed to be lifted and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel rather than constant dark with nowhere to go.
Thanks for reading,