Friday, 21 March 2014

Column 3, 2014 - Mental disintegration

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 75, Friday March 21, 2014. [Full text below]

Michael Vaughan, writing in The Telegraph in the UK and The Age in Australia this week, thinks he’s been taken for a ride. Trescothic (‘depression’) was ill, whereas Trott (‘burn-out’) “did a runner”.

Vaughan says he feels “conned”. Trott’s was not a mental problem, he declares, but a cricketing one. “We were allowed to believe he was struggling with a serious mental health issue and treated him with sensitivity and sympathy.” Which Michael clearly feels he doesn’t deserve.

Andy Flower, a man always notable for his careful choice of words, referred to the reason for Jonathon Trott’s premature departure from Australia as a “stress related condition”.

That is deliberately vague. It’s a term that could encompass irritable bowels, a Reggie Perrin style midlife crisis, or full-on manic episodes. It could even, I think, be successfully argued that Ben Stokes’ wrist, which he broke punching a locker in frustration, is a stress related condition.

I’m not being flippant. I’m trying to illustrate that these are very blurry lines in a very large, very grey area. I for one am not at all sure of the distinction between stress, nerves, anxiety, burn-out and depression. Though as I understand it, burn-out is by definition related to stress, whereas depression is often completely unconnected to it.

All of them seem more prevalent in contemporary society, though figures are very hard to come by, skewed by a diagnosis rate that’s gone through the roof. It’s certainly become an important industry for Big Pharma, which cynics might suggest is not necessarily above persuading people that ordinary and understandable lows are chemical imbalances which need treating with drugs. Valium and Prozac did not become household names by accident.

Theories for the increase include too little and too much exercise, too little and too much free time, heavy metal toxicity, and the inexorable rise of consumerism and junk food.

I’ve no idea what causes it. But I know it’s real. In the last few years several of my close family and friends have suffered from one form or another of “stress related condition”.

Some were treated with drugs, some with psychiatrists, some simply with time, all with sensitivity and sympathy. Every single one of the episodes was scary and disorienting for the people around them, and completely overwhelming for the people concerned. Normally buoyant, energetic people, crippled by feelings beyond their control.

Cricket is a game with a significant mental aspect. Much of what is done tactically is designed to deliberately deceive, unsettle and destabilise an opponent; to sew doubt in their mind. Especially at the very highest level. Steve Waugh famously rechristened sledging ‘mental disintegration’.

Can it be surprising if people occasionally fall victim to these plans? And if they do, are they just losers? Undeserving of our understanding, or even a backward glance?

I don’t know what went on in Jonathon Trott’s head, but whatever it was I believe it was genuine, beyond his control, and absolutely deserving of sensitivity and sympathy.

- ends 496 words -

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