Opinion: Let's talk about the skeletons

Blog Opinion

Depression is intangible to all but those afflicted. And no amount of education and enlightenment, or indeed research can totally remove the barrier of emotion between those who have had it, and those who have not.

Cricketers, like all contemporary sportsmen, are placed on a pedestal. They almost seem blessed with immortality. They are heroes. They are icons. Their actions are revered and acclaimed. But, as the late, great Peter Roebuck once wrote 'cricket has its dark secrets, its skeletons.'

Nothing quite represents the galling nature of mental illness in cricket more than the moment you become aware of an individual's affliction.

It assails you and shocks you. It leads to moments of dramatic introspection and questioning; confusion and often guilt at the importance you apply to the runs and wickets he has or has not taken.

It comes from nowhere but comes from somewhere. It makes sense but doesn't make sense. Mental illness is so difficult to wrap your mind around that it engenders bizarre conflicting emotions.

It is intangible to all but those afflicted. And no amount of education and enlightenment, or indeed research can totally remove the barrier of emotion between those who have had it, and those who have not.

There have been some beautifully harrowing pieces of writing, documentaries and interviews on the subject, especially in recent years, but truly understanding the emotions engendered by mental illness, from mild depression to suicidal deaths, seems tragically destined to only ever be a trait of the afflicted.

What is more important though, and indeed more essential than understanding, is appreciation. Appreciation of the severity of mental illness, of the parlousness of it, of its tempestuous nature.

For it to be understood more widely its seriousness needs to be appreciated more widely. And if it is appreciated then fewer people will suffer in silence.

While the departure from England's Ashes tour of Jonathan Trott due to mental illness is horrifically sad, it is a sadness lined with hope. In speaking out, and being brave enough to expose his illness in his desire to cure it, he has made a decision that will be of benefit to him, and to wider society in raising awareness of the problem.

Writing of Marcus Trescothick, Shaun Tait and Lou Vincent in 2008 Roebuck said, "For the time being the game they were playing, the life they were leading, was not worth the turmoil.

"It is a mark of their maturity that they have not ducked the issue but rather presented their cases to a public so much better informed and prepared to listen. They have taken charge of their lives in a manner that will commend itself to all right-thinking people."

With regards to the details of Trott's particular situation what is especially resonant is the admission from Andy Flower and Hugh Morris that Trott has in fact been managing his psychological difficulties since the beginning of his career as an England player.

There is no greater riposte to those who have mocked, or joked about Trott's departure from the tour than his exemplary international career running parallel to such sensitive problems.

You will doubtless hear and read plenty to the contrary, but what Trott has done, in fighting a career in silence before acknowledging his problems and leaving England's Ashes tour is amazingly brave.

Hopefully his actions inspire the thousands of other people suffering similarly to talk openly about their secrets and their skeletons. If so, that would be a greater legacy than any number of runs and wickets.

<b>Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket)</b>

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