Depression within Cricket has hit the headlines in recent years with many household names such as Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Marcus Trescothick opening up about their own experiences and battles. One study suggested that the suicide rate among English test cricketers over the years is almost double that of the UK’s male population. The media spotlight surrounding the issue has triggered a response from the Sport, with organisations such as the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) launching initiatives such as the Mind Matters tutorials to educate players about the possible risks and coping strategies.
The real question though is why is this the case? Is it something about the sport that is triggering such incidences? Or is it more likely to be a reflection of the type of personalities that tend to take up the game? There is no concrete answer.
Let’s firstly look at characteristics of Cricket that could be deemed as risk factors for the onset of depression. In professional Cricket, time away from home can be a huge issue for some players, with as much as 44 weeks of the year being spent in hotel rooms. The huge amount of time spent alone on tour, as well as the time in the field, whilst waiting to bat etc. provides perfect opportunity for introspection, or analysis of one’s thoughts and feelings, which can therefore also lead to rumination, which consists of persistent negative feelings. Studies have shown strong correlations between both introspection and rumination and incidence of depression.
On top of all that, there’s then the pressure of a game that is quite unique in its need for individual performance within a team game. Individual performance is tangibly measured and compared through the use of batting and bowling statistics, with averages and number of runs scored or wickets taken regularly being used as performance indicators. This is much more objective than most other sports, for example football, where a player might not score a goal, but it can still be subjectively perceived that he had a good game.
In other words, poor performances are harder to hide in Cricket. This is capable of creating a huge amount of self-induced pressure; wanting to contribute to the team, pressure on one’s self to do well, and a high fear of failure. It can also create insecurity, with the constant worries of whether one’s contribution is being valued and the questioning of one’s own ability. If you play an individual sport, and play poorly, that’s one thing; you may feel that you’ve let yourself down. If you have a poor individual performance in a team game, you may not just feel that you’ve let yourself down, but also your teammates, your captain, your coach etc. So in a game where individual performance is so easily measured, this can be a huge issue.
All of these things, or a combination of them, are capable of leading to depression as they encourage risk factors such as self-criticism, rumination and anxiety. However, each sport has its own pressures and every career has its own pressures that it would be equally reasonable to suggest as risk factors for depression. So maybe there is an argument for the side of the story that suggests the high incidence of depression is due to the tendencies of the people who play the game. It could be construed that it is a certain way in which these pressures are being handled that eventually leads to depression.
It is possible that Cricket attracts a large proportion of people who are prone to a large amount of self-analysis, as there is plenty of opportunity to analyse technique and performance. This also lends itself well to striving for perfection, or aiming to avoid imperfection, which also has links with a high fear of failure and depression.
It could just be that a combination of the two, the nature of the game and the tendencies of the people that play it, that when brought together cause such devastating consequences.
Whichever it is, or even if it’s both, Cricket’s leading organisations need to continue to take this seriously, even as the media attention dies down, and continue to put in place strategies and support networks for its players, for both prevention and management/cure. In the mean time, hopefully the opening up of former players will encourage current players struggling with such issues to open up too, and not suffer in silence like many have before them.