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Depression do us part

I had always wondered what is it that makes a person strong enough or selfish enough, as some people believe, to commit suicide? Could it be something in their environment, diet, personality or brain chemistry that pushed them to the edge?

This topic hits home because I lost a friend to suicide. I was shocked and overwhelmed by the news and feeling incredibly guilty. I couldn’t help but wonder how I could have prevented this from happening or what I could have done differently.

This made me think of a chapter in the bible. “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4). There is some profound meaning about this phrase. In God’s point of view, he knew every person will sooner or later walk this path but he does not want his children cringing in fear of what is on the other side. He wants us to know that he will be there with us, leading his children to glory where there will be no more pain.

I soon realised that untreated mental illness (including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and others) is the cause for the vast majority of suicides.

Depression among footballers/athletes has been a topic of some debate recently. In the world of football this illness is still a taboo subject. A lot of people will say it doesn’t seem right for footballers to suffer from depression; they are supposed to be our gladiators, as they train to be in great physical shape and must be be able to handle any pressure that comes their way. Most people seem to think footballers are unlikely to be victims of depression because of their glamorous life and tons of money in the bank. Surely God is laughing with them all the way to the bank?

However, fans don’t think that soccer players can suffer from sadness that can lead to depression. Believe it or not, with all they do they are still normal people who have emotions, feelings and problems. Statistics show that 8 to 12 per cent of the population suffers from depression in any given year. Victory performance psychologist Dr Victor Thompson says depression is not a sign of weakness but may be a sign of physical illness. According to Thompson, working with depressed footballers is like working with someone who feels a bit hopeless and negative about everything. He says, “What works for one sportman will not work for another.”

Footballers are considered the most vulnerable to depression. They are also the least likely to seek help, the consequence being that they are also the most likely to take their own lives. Athletes, especially footballers, are taught to be tough and strong, therefore depression is not something many of these players want to face or accept. However, there are some soccer players who find themselves full of anxiety for the high expectation from coaches, media, and heightened public visibility. Former Nottingham Forest and England under-21 striker Justin Fashanu was found hanging from the rafters of an east London garage. Among the pressures he had been facing was a court charge in America of sexually assaulting a teenage boy but he predicted that he would be treated unfairly because he was homosexual.

Bundesliga referee Babak Rafati attempted suicide shortly before he was due to officiate a game; the media expressed its shock. In his case there was element of racist abuse, with him being of Iranian descent. Late last year there was a state of shock after a Welsh manager Gary Speed was found hanged at his home. Speed’s death came a day after the former Liverpool footballer Stan Collymore spoke candidly about his battle with depression.

There are a number of professional footballers who have admitted to suffering from depression in some form or another throughout their careers. Football and the media need to encourage discussion of the facts surrounding what is a very serious illness. Celtic manager Neil Lennon has suffered from depression and he says players shouldn’t be ashamed to seek help. He also mentions that the best way for him to cope over the years was to talk about his illness and get professional help. Former Bundesliga player Andreas Biermann chose his Facebook account to reveal that he made another attempt early this month to take his life. Biermann, 31, admitted to a suicide attempt a few days after Robert Enke took his life in November 2009

Andy O’Brien is one of the few to announce about his depression while being a professional footballer at Leeds, the club he is currently playing for now.

I sit and wonder if a footballer like O’Brien would ever be made captain of his club? The captain of a team is supposed to be a leader that is brave, resistant to pain and incapable of suffering.

I think education about all aspects of health, physical and mental, should be at the core of football. They should encourage talks to their players from youth to first team and explain the early signs that trigger depression.

Questions need to be asked of the way in which those within the game are treated by those on the outside. Ignorance and stigma surrounding it are the factors that, more than any other, allow depression to fester and subsequently ruin lives. Would you as a fan react with sympathy for the player suffering with depression or will you prefer not knowing about it because it will make your favourite footballer appear weak to you?

Follow me @minzon on twitter

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