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5 live Sport Special: Depression in Cricket

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Eleanor Oldroyd Eleanor Oldroyd | 11:40 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Marcus Trescothick

In the last seven months, I've been involved in two 5 live programmes on depression in sport - they've been probably the most revealing and moving pieces of broadcasting I've had the privilege to be part of.

Back in November, we told the story of Robert Enke, the German goalkeeper who committed suicide while in the grip of that terrible illness. And this week, I was in the studio as Marcus Trescothick opened his heart about the devastating effect depression has had on him.

Marcus was the key guest in a programme hosted by his former England team-mate and captain, Michael Vaughan. We also heard interviews recorded by Michael with Matthew Hoggard, who went through a desperately low time while on tour in New Zealand in 2008, and with the brother of former Nottinghamshire cricketer Mark Saxelby, who took his own life by ingesting weedkiller in 2000.

Cricket throws up very specific challenges to those with a tendency to depression - the long periods away from home, whether you're an international cricketer or on the county circuit; the many opportunities for introspection when you're sitting around in the dressing room waiting to bat or standing around in the field; the fact that your performance is measured by the stark statistics of batting and bowling averages.

But of course it's not confined to cricket.

Former All Black great John Kirwan told Michael how he'd suffered from the illness, and is campaigning for greater openness about it in his native New Zealand. And we heard from Clarke Carlisle about the Professional Footballers Association's new publication designed to help young players going through periods of mental stress.

Many things struck me during the two hours of the programme.

Most forcefully, the stark fact that depression makes no distinction for status and income. Like cancer, heart disease or any critical illness, it can affect people in any profession; from High Court Judges to council workers, from super-fit sportsmen at the peak of their careers, to teachers, journalists, or students.

But also that we seem to be gradually breaking down the misunderstanding and stigma that surrounds mental illness in sport.

When Frank Bruno was hospitalised in 2003, while suffering a bleak depressive period, the Sun headline notoriously read "Bonkers Bruno Locked Up".

After I wrote a piece for the BBC website about Robert Enke last November, some of the responses were dismissive of his problems - how, they asked, could a man on the brink of representing his country at a World Cup, with the privileges of a professional footballer, be depressed?

And when Michael Yardy came home from the Cricket World Cup last March, Geoffrey Boycott caused a storm when he joked on 5 live Breakfast that Yardy's depression might have been caused by Boycott's criticism of his bowling.

Trescothick told us that he'd been "very, very angry" when he heard Boycott's comments. Vaughan has recommended that his TMS colleague listens back to the programme to gain a greater insight into a subject which he clearly knew little about.

And we were inundated with emails, texts and tweets from listeners, many of them thanking Marcus for his honesty - and some from people who had, for the first time, realised that they were suffering from the same thing.

One 45-year-old man texted to say he was listening in tears, while walking his dog. He'd recognised that the symptoms Marcus was describing fitted exactly with his own.

Others told us that Marcus's bravery in dealing with his depression had given them the courage to seek treatment themselves.

It's a rare and humbling experience to know that a radio programme is having such a direct impact.

Marcus Trescothick was already a hero to many for his cricketing feats for Somerset and England. But his choice to be so public about his private problems might save lives - and that's heroism on a whole different level.

Eleanor Oldroyd is one of the presenters of 5 live Sport

Related links

Podcast - 5 live Sport Special: Depression in Cricket
BBC Health - Depression
Eleanor Oldroyd on Robert Enke


  • Comment number 1.

    Unfortunately there is still a lot of misunderstanding regarding depression/mental illness. Eight years ago I developed an incurable neuralgic condition for which there is no cure or relief. Four years ago realising I had become very depressed I asked my local surgery for help only to be told that the PCT did not have the finance to cover the treatment I requested. I asked on several occasions, always to be given the same answer. I am now housebound and barely a day goes by that I don't spend some time in tears. The ignorance is not just amongst members of the public but in the medical profession too. My husband's son is a consultant in the NHS and even he shows no sympathy for my and my husband's situation.
    I applaud Marcus Trescosthick for speaking out. I met him early in 2003 and he was one of the politest men I have come across.

  • Comment number 2.

    I live in France and research into autism. The theme of my book (in prog.) is that autism may well be the 'last chance saloon' for a psychiatry that aspires to something like scientific rigour. The reality of almost all other mental illnesses has been challenged by an increasingly influential group of psychiatrists (the movement is called 'antipsychiatry'; key figures for googlers - Foucault, Laing, Szasz).

    Even autism is being looked at from some quarters as a 'socially constructed' phenomenon. Social construction theory often involves a commitment to the idea that mental illness categories (schizophrenia, OCD, depression, autism, etc.) are introduced from authoritative quarters in order to control irregular behaviour.

    To offset the antipsychiatrist argument we should note an increasing trend to medicalise ways of being different. E.g. Is road rage really an illness? More controversially, does chemical castration - a medical response - imply that recidivist rapists are ill?

    Boycott's remarks remind us that we remain in the dark ages as far as mental health is concerned. People like Tresco, in any case a much loved cricketer, help to rectify this. I have no doubt that he had/has a genuine medical condition. Moreover, an extremely debilitating one.

    We need to find a sensible middle-ground between airbrushing mental illness out of the picture (antipsychiatry) and the silly, knee-jerk urge to medicalise every form of socially conspicuous behaviour. From an intellectual perspective this has not proven an easy task. Again, Tresco's outspoken-ness may prove the as effective a means as, say, philosophy (the philosophy of psychiatry, my field, is a rapidly growing field).

    Lastly, I hope Tresco is happy and at ease. Some forms of depression can be cured/adequately controlled. It's a testament to the man that he achieved as much as he did. I also hope that people like Geoffrey Boycott can learn from this and modify their outlook accordingly.

    PS. Apologies for any French characters that sneak through. Working off my i-phone and scrolling back/editing is a real drag. Unfortunately I missed the radio prog. But it's heartening to see the issue discussed and by such fine people.

  • Comment number 3.

    In general, it has been known for some time that certain professional groups have higher than average rates of suicide, and depressive illnesses. Naturally there are quite often misleading and controversial lists created, usually in response to the death of someone famous linked to a particular profession. Unfortunately cricketers do carry a slightly higher risk, and there are many names associated with cricket who sadly did not receive help. The diagnosis of depressive illness can be a long road, especially with people who travel for a living, and those in groups such as teams obviously disappear from those who could detect a depressive spiral. The bravery, and I use the word as it is meant, of people who admit their depressive illness to the public deserve huge praise as it keeps the subject out in the open and helps others to seek help. The best route for treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy but if you are away for months on end on tour this is not open to you as a choice. Sadly living in a group of young -ish men day after day, missing your family and especially if one of your nearest and dearest is also prone to depression, makes life intolerable.

    I thoroughly admire Trescothick and Yardy for their honesty; it is a pity some did not receive the help they needed. I don't need to draw the obvious inference in comparing cricketers to footballers. While many of the latter rake it in with four brain cells a piece, they wouldn't care if they were depressed or not, they would just go and buy another Bentley to "cheer themselves up".

  • Comment number 4.

    I am a 17 year old boy who has suffered with Depression for the last 6 months, merely days before I plucked up the courage to go to see my GP, I found my Copy of Tresco's Autobiography and after re-reading it, I remembered that if he could beat the illness, why Couldn't I? Tresco managed to highlight a major problem that is suffered by many people, and if those in the Public eye are able to alert people to what they went through and they can even help just one person, then they deserve great recognition of what they have done.

    Thank you very much Marcus, you certainly helped me survive my issues with Depression

  • Comment number 5.

    I found the programme insightful, empathetic and quite moving. I had written a blog post on the reaction to Michael Yardy's depression and my own bout of mental wobbles in Oz during the 06/07 Ashes, but had decided not to publish it because I felt too inhibited. After listening to the programme, I decided I would and, if you don't mind me popping the link here, I hope it might be of some small interest to people who have taken a second look at the issue after last night's show http://bit.ly/k03jmt

  • Comment number 6.

    Thank you for this excellent programme.
    I do hope Geoffrey Boycott was listening.

  • Comment number 7.

    Whilst wishing to sound unpopular with the blog and others I actually want to ask something to Yardy and Tresco.

    I am not an expert, so I am not saying I am right and admit I do not have a background in medicine. I do ask, whilst it is a tough thing, surely everyone in this country would love the chance to represent their country. They are very skilled and lucky to do so (financially and honour) yet for some reason they are happy to still play professionally yet not for England? I do want to know what the difference is for them? They are still under pressure and have some spot light on them (Tresco is the skipper of Somerset and Yardy of Sussex) as SKY does still broadcast country cricket. I find this puzzling, yes they might be away from familys with England more but they are still away on tours abroad and in the UK with their counties.

    This blog mentions other sportsmen such as Robert Enke (R.I.P) he was depressed with football and more whilst playin for his club and Germany, but there seems a great difference between him and Yardy and Tres. I wonder if whilst stressful, they didnt think they could hack it at top level anymore (Tres - I believe you would make England even stronger if you felt you could still play)

    My other query is that whilst I can't appreciate how stressful their jobs are, but surely single hardworking mothers and fathers,people in great debt or living with sick love ones is alot more stressful than playing for you country?

    Anyway, I respect their bravery in admitting their 'problems' and wish them well and wish everyone with depression reading this that you do have the inner strength to carry on just keep striving and look for help where possible :)

  • Comment number 8.

    @no.7..your post is so wrong on so many levels that it should be used as a template for how society views depression and mental illness in general.

    Putting problems in inverted commas at the end was a masterstroke. All you did was highlight your own ignorance.

    Inner strength has nothing to do with it. People with depression dont lack it in fact they probably have more than most to be able to live with it and rationalise it.

    There is a long way to go judging by your lack of insight.

  • Comment number 9.

    I listened to the programme today and found it very interesting and helpful. I have suffered from depression for some time and can identify with many of the issues discussed. The programme showed clearly the terrible impact that this illness can have not only on the sufferer but on those close to them. I can only admire the honesty of Marcus, Mike Yardy and others who have spoken openly about their experiences. Marcus's book has been very helpful to me in dealing with my own depression. I've also had some fantastic counselling which has helped me a lot over the last year - the really difficult bit was facing up to the problem and doing something about it. I have found two other books really useful in helping me to understand what depression is about - "I had a black dog" by Matthew Johnstone and "Living with a black dog" by Matthew & Ainsley Johnstone. The latter helped my wife to understand not only what I was going through but how to help me.

    Thanks for a great programme.

  • Comment number 10.

    I have heard of Marcus Trescothick's problems and applaud him for having the courage to speak out. As a "tough" bloke and very amateur sportsman I would have laughed at his problems but depression can strike even the tough and the privileged like Robert Enka(?). Geoff Boycott has always been a narrow minded and bigoted man who needs to keep his uninformed opinions to himself. Well done to all professional sportsmen and women who admit to their problems in the public domain, it helps the rest of us to cope too.

  • Comment number 11.

    Depression, mental illness - indeed any serious subject that affrects so many - would not be given over an hour on this station were it not wrapped-up as "Depression in cricket" or some other sport, as if they were uniquely or particularly susceptable; or more likely a popular peg to hang it on. During the day it would get 30 seconds, then a phone-in rant that went nowhere and hopefully (for the station ) a "best bit"! or a headline that could be used in the next bulletin. It's a pity worthwhile subjects are only discussed in depth when a sportsman has one.

  • Comment number 12.

    Seriously, #7...You really need to look at your post again, and consider what you've written.

    I am in the midst of a break-up from a woman who has suffered from Bi-Polar for 25 years. Mental illness is not a "problem". It is what it says...an ILLNESS.

    Regardless of how much people are paid, it is still possible to be depressed. Money, fame and celebrity have NOTHING to do with it. It is about personal feelings of worthlessness.

    Until you've seen someone go through a session of ECT....Until you've seen the devastation of depression, you would be better off just reading the comments section, and not adding to it.

    As someone very famous once said "It is better to have people believe you are an idiot, than open your mouth and confirm their suspicions"

  • Comment number 13.

    No7. I thought like you once, until I was whacked with it (depression).

    I've got the medals of tough times; Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and used to think how can a proffessional sportsman be depressed...they should walk with me for a day. Roughie toughie Bootneck that I was.

    But what you're suggesting is akin to saying millionaires should cope better with having cancer than the rest of us would/should.

  • Comment number 14.

    It is revealing insight into depression by looking at cricket a game associated with the stiff upper lip but depression and sadly suicide has many links with it. Dr Tim Cantopher book Depression the curse of the strong tells another narrative about mental distress. John Barclay's book Life Beyond the airing cupboard is one of the best books by a cricketer in which he says 'depression, manic depressive, bipolar, nervous breakdown, .they all describe a sensitivity of mind with which i have been closely associaed." For my tuppence worth I run an artofrecovery.com project which attempts to help people recover from mental distress.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am twenty-three years old and have suffered from depression since I was ten. It's an illness that comes back to strike when you least expect in and unless you are very self-aware, sneaks up on you like the proverbial 'black dog'. It is therefore with great admiration that I hear eloquent and informed members of any profession speaking with the honesty that those interviewed on the programme have portrayed. It surprises me in this day and age that depression is not fully understood, but without first-hand experience the feelings of utter worthlessness, boredom and futility cannot truly be empathised with.

    Programmes like these can only do good and I applaud the BBC and all of those involved for tackling a subject that is essentially still taboo in many social circles. The faster the ignorance surrounding depression (and other mental illnesses and difficulties) can be addressed, the faster we as a society can learn to accept these conditions and finally act to help those that cannot help themselves through no fault of their own.

  • Comment number 16.

    @#7 - Whether you had the programme on the radio or not I don't know, what I do know is you didn't listen to it. It was on many occasions made very clear that depression as an illness can strike anyone, in any position at any time. That the programme took advantage of the fact that there have been a few high profile cases in cricket recently in order to get some of this information aired - well done! Your implications that for any reason a successful person should be immune from depression, or that depression is only really for people who 'can't cope' - well as I said, you should have been listening to the program not just hearing it.
    I think what you have done, as so many others do is to latch onto a link between stress, anxiety and depression. While stress and anxiety can often go hand in hand with depression, they are not the same. Marcus, like many other sportsmen, and many other people in all walks of life, I'm sure will have gone through periods of anxiety - is his technique right? what are people saying about his performance? and as a top level sportsman he and others would have their strategies for dealing with this. This is not the same as depression - it can be linked to it, but it is not the same.
    As someone who has gone through (is going through) similar things - as a teacher and not as a sportsman, I can vouch wholeheartedly for the comments made in the programme, both by the contributors to it and by many of the listeners who texted in, that one of the hardest things about depression is the first stage of admitting to yourself and others that you have it and asking for help. For so long these kinds of illnesses have been stigmatised and ignored and yet they have such profound effects on both suffers, friends and family - you just had to listen to Mr Saxelby to hear that. I for one (of many) was in tears during parts of that programme, it was such a moving tribute to everyone, in and out of sport, who suffers in this way.
    To Marcus and all others who are in a position to use their public persona, to those who had the courage to stand up and talk to Michael Vaughan, and to Radio5 for airing the programme to bring these issues to the forefront of peoples minds I can only say thank you and please, please please, keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'd admire anyone with the courage to speak out about mental health. The sportsmen and 5Live in this case should be applauded in this case.

  • Comment number 18.

    The situations which cause the most "stress" related symptoms are where pressure is applied and then disapplied. I.e. Morning session, Lunch, Afternoon Session, Tea, Evening session, overnight break, back again the next day. Psychologists have proved this time and time again and it is little wonder that cricket has the highest depression and suicide rate of any sport.

    It also makes me so angry when people describe depression as being "down" or "sad". It isn't. It can knock you down like the 'flu, aches, pains, headaches, skin rashes, sickness, sleeping disorder, eating disorder, chronic fatigue. Having had both, I would take 'flu over depression any day. It's not a feeling of 'sadness' either, try 'overwhelming hopelessness' that doesn't yield to any amount of reason. Through in paranoid, particularly towards those who would try to help you, and sociophobia that makes you want to go and hide under the bed and you're getting a bit closer.

    'Depression' isn't sadness, being in a depression is literally that - a giant hole that you can't see your way out of.

    After that lovely rant I'll add at least something optimistic - I've been 'ok' for three years now, after I never thought it would end. It does end, and putting it behind you is the best feeling.

  • Comment number 19.

    In fairness to Geoffrey Boycott (a difficult thing to be with such an awkward, prickly, opinionated character), among the many sympathetic endorsements from former players that appear on the dust jacket of Trescothick's autobiography is one from Boycott himself.
    I think Boycott's comments about Yardy, thoughtless and hurtful though they clearly were, had some basis in the fact that, by the time Yardy was forced home by his illness, there was already a genuine debate going on about his place in the World Cup side. It was silly of Boycott not to separate out Yardy's illness from his ability and form, but then, broadcasters say silly things when they're live on air.
    It's also fair to say that, since his recovery from a serious cancer, Boycott has himself recognised what an arrogant beggar he can be, and has made obvious efforts (not always successfully and sometimes excruciatingly embarrassing to listen to) to value current players and his broadcasting colleagues both as people and for their abilities and opinions.
    He's a long way from being my favourite commentator, but I don't think he's as nasty as one crass remark about Yardy and some of the comment on this blog might suggest.

  • Comment number 20.

    I haven't had a chance to listen to the programme yet but I'm glad that some awareness about mental health is being raised. There's still a massive stigma and negative attitude towards it. My mother has suffered with severe depression for almost a year and I was surprised when talking to one of my friends that they didn't class depression as a mental illness.

    I'm glad to see the issue being tackled across more sports now - the PFA have released a handbook about it for all players. The fact that more sportsmen and high profile people are revealing their battles with it can only be a good thing. It's a shame that it takes that to raise the awareness though.

  • Comment number 21.

    Just listening to the programme. What Hoggard illustrates so well is that depression affects people in a wide variety of ways. He speaks of “pulling himself together”, something that seems impossible to so many others. It would seem that we may all be on the spectrum of depression, for some it is highly debilitating as Marcus Trescothick points out (and can be more so than his experience). Others find that they are able to pull themselves out of the grips of low mood with relative ease, going for a run, getting a good nights sleep, being around loved ones are all used by some to right themselves again. It is important to address that there are differences between low mood and depressive illness but that all forms must be dealt appropriately to avoid more serious suffering.
    It is fantastic to hear this being talked about by such high profile sportsmen and needs to remain out in the open if we are to help others when they need it.

  • Comment number 22.

    although i do not personally suffer from depression my older sister has battled with it for 6 years now and i would like to thank marcus for helping me get a greater insight to how she is feeling

    now onto geoffrey boycotts comments ..... andy gray the sky football pundit was sacked when he made innapropriat sexist comments about a female official whilst on air so why has boycs been spared when his comments were so offensive to so many people ? dont get me wrong he is a superb commentator who i enjoyed listening to however he's now lost any respect i had for him due to his comments about yardy

  • Comment number 23.

    It is not only sports ,it can happen in any field & sometimes people will become mental wreck.This is thing happend for few sportsmen all over the world

  • Comment number 24.

    Re: Boycott

    Having read 22 I'm sympathetic to 19's view. Boycott talks before this thinks. My own view is that the Sky scandal involving Andy Gray and R. Keyes was more serious than Boycott's gaff. As I said above I hope that Boycott can learn from this and move on. I don't think that his remark represented the tip of iceberg. Compare Bob Willis's rant (there's a Sky connection again) about Jimmy Anderson getting maternity leave (or whatever it's called). Most of us, bar the 'old skool', know that these tour schedules are psychologically VERY demanding. I'm glad that the ECB or England tour management are being proactive.

    There's an essential difference between 'Skygate' and Boycott's remarks: there is simply no excuse for modern professional journalists to be uneducated with respect to gender equality. In my opinion, the Sky remarks revealed real prejudices in two hi-profile journos. In the case of mental illness there is still much to be done in terms of educating people (all of us). In my previous post I tried to point to sources of some of the confusion.

    Boycott is guilty of a crass remark on a subject about which we know very little. That remark is, I repeat, an indicator of how little our understanding of mental illness has advanced since the birth of psychology (circa. 1800s). But I doubt that the remark reveals an unsympathetic attitude. I write this because my previous post may have been ambiguous about Boycott's culpability.

    In my opinion the real dinosaurs (on a whole range of important social issues) reside in a different part of the airwaves.

  • Comment number 25.

    Re: 24. Aarrrggh...typos. "...talks before HE thinks."; "...tip of AN iceberg."

  • Comment number 26.

    I have suffered from depression for years. I have also been a huge cricket fan for years. I think one of my proudest moments was going on R5Live some weeks back and speaking about Marcus's book. And although the very late night audience is probably not huge, enough people understood and Coming Back To Me is on the virtual bookshelf. I felt so warm to have done that. And have to give so many thanks to Marcus.

  • Comment number 27.

    I am a cricket fan married to someone who suffers from depression. I´d just like to sympathise with those who suffer, and are helping those who suffer. People really cannot understand this illness unless you see it first hand. I don´t even think in my case that the family of the sufferer try to understand. Education and an open mind are vital if you´re caring for people with this illness. Good luck to everyone affected, I hope you get all the support you need.

  • Comment number 28.

    My heart goes out to anyone suffering from depression. I would also like to say how wonderful Eleanor Oldroyd is - she is classy and intelligent and conducts her interviews with great kindness yet always manages to get her interviewees to reveal themselves. Her enthusiasm and insight makes a real change from many other presenters and journalists. I would love to hear her more on five live - if only she had taken over the breakfast program I would still be listening to it. Thanks Ellie

  • Comment number 29.

    Depression is a very over used word. As my grandfather always said "busy people with real pressure don t have time to get depressed." A poster asked earlier why single mothers with intense pressure are less likely to get depressed, the answer is above. Pampered sports stars cry as soon as going gets tough and we are supposed to feel sorry for them?

    Mentally weak I am afraid. There are people in the world whose problems amount to far more than wondering which five star hotel to stay in whilst on tour. Again look at non western cultures, tough cultures and you will see less depression. These people are busy striving 18 hours every day for their families. They have too much responsibility to become attention seeking cry babies.

    Get over it! There are people worse off.

  • Comment number 30.

    stevieeng34 (post no. 29) you appear to be totally ignorant about depression. You seem to be offended by stars getting ill; perhaps you would care to "get over it". Of course there are people worse off - there virtually always are. That makes no difference whatever to the reality of a person's depression. If you ever experience it, you may stop thing the word "depression" is over-used.

  • Comment number 31.

    "busy people with real pressure don't have time to get depressed." Winston Churchill suffered from ''the black dog'', he was busy enough and had some real pressure too...
    I have to live with a family member with serious depression and over the years whilst talking to others,it is almost immediately apparent when you speak to those that genuinely know something about it and those who think they do but are painfully ignorant(Geoff Boycott for one).It's a pretty hellish illness and people shouldn't forget those closest to the ones who suffer,it makes life pretty hard for the loved ones too..

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    The fact that sportsman or celebrities are needed to highlight a condition that is prevalent in modern society is very disturbing; we all need to accept that this condition is an illness and that people who are suffering need far more than the antiquated 'pull yourself together' atttitude of Boycott and his anachronistic cronies.

  • Comment number 34.

    Thank you to Marcus and all who had the courage to speak about their illness and experiences on the show. It's things like this that can help to reduce the stigma stopping so many people from feeling able to ask for help. Some of the comments on here show the difference it has already made.

  • Comment number 35.

    I've suffered form depression for several years. It's an illness - would you tell someone with a broken leg to stop whining and pull themselves together?

    I have huge admiration for people like Trescothick and Yardy who have gone public - I've never even told my mum about my struggle

    As for convicted criminal Boycott the only thing he's qualified to talk about is cricket. I think his views on other issues are irrelevant.

  • Comment number 36.

    Excellent podcast by the TMS team, I'm about halfway through Tres's book and finding a lot of similarities on how I responded to my Black Dog and the constant struggle to recover from a Black Day and something I couldn't have done without a good GP and the support of my family who I must have put through hell. I did find it heartening that Boycott has responded to Yardy's break from Cricket in a positive manner. Isn't it about time the BBC re-showed the Inside Sport Depression in Sport Programme to keep the awareness of this nasty illness going?

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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