I can't help but applaud the mental health awareness work undertaken by the Australian Cricketers Association in order to support for its players.
It bowls me over that they are willing to acknowledge the pressure players are under, and that something needs to be done to support them. Many, many, many organisations need to sit up and take notice. This is a phenomenal example being set by the sporting fraternity.
In his award winning autobiography Coming Back To Me, former England captain Marcus Trescothick discussed in detail his battle with depression - despite having what most would consider "everything".
Trescothick is not alone at finding it difficult to reveal his personal battles with mental illness in the early stages. With this knowledge, the ACA along with Cricket Australia prioritises enhancing the game's awareness and knowledge of depression.
The Professional Development and Wellbeing Program, a joint initiative of the ACA and CA, was implemented in 2001 and is available to all male and female current players
The program focuses on providing services in the key areas of, wellbeing and health services, education and training as well as career transition., those who have recently retired and past players on a case by case basis.
ACA's National Manager for Player Development and Wellbeing, Ben Smith said “I think it is hard to isolate or attribute specific elements of cricket that might make players more susceptible to depression than general members of the community or other professional athletes.
“Often it’s a players team mates or support staff that are the first to notice a problem, hence the need to arm them with this knowledge,” he said.
The program provides education to players, coaches and support staff, aiming to de-stigmatise mental health issues; help identify people that might be struggling; and provide practical directions to players on how they can assist their teammates.
As with any other person, no one can pinpoint what it is about the game that increases a person's vulnerability to depression, but high pressure, injury, isolation and long periods away from home all reduce the individual's natural protective factors. The ACA concedes that extended periods away from the usual support networks could definitely be a contributor.
“It is not impossible for a player to be away from home for up to nearly 300 days in year and players have made the ACA acutely aware that the greatest challenge of playing international cricket is the time spent away from family and friends." Even though this is a sacrifice professional cricketers are aware of when they sign up, the ACA acknowledges there are strategies that can be implemented to reduce this impact.
For instance, the ACA provide players who are away for over 50 days of international cricket in any given year, access to a fully paid two week visitor’s period for immediate family members. Additionally CA has always provided a fully paid two week visitors period for players and their immediate family over Christmas and New Year.
To support touring players, CA also send psychologists to monitor a number of things including player well-being.
However, Ben Smith said it is “hard to isolate or attribute specific elements of cricket that might make players susceptible to depression." He suggests that more research needs to be done in the area and believes the ICC should take the lead and commission research into mental health issues within elite cricket. Mr Smith said “Without this research we are often providing reactive assistance”.
The ACA continue to look for ways to combat depression within the game - working closely with other sports to share knowledge and understanding in this vital area.
Mental illness is not selective - even our sporting Titans are susceptible. The fact that the ACA, CA and cricketers themselves are willing to speak about mental health problems, demonstrates it is not something that can be attributed solely to malingerers. I hope that many other organisations take this lead.
By breaking down the stigma of mental health issues and empowering players to keep an eye out for their mates, the ACA will not only build resilience in their players but will be creating a supportive culture for all future players and winners.
Quotes and other information attributed to Shane Brien ROAR
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