Mind game: How mental illness is still a test for cricket after Jonathan Trott’s Ashes nightmare

When Jonathan Trott returned home from the Ashes last year with a ‘stress-related illness,’ there was widespread public sympathy for the England batsman. 

His exit brought back the sad memories of 2006, when Marcus Trescothick was forced to fly home from Australia with a crippling depression that later left him sobbing on the floor of Heathrow and effectively ended his international career.

After England ended their dismal tour of Australia, Trott spoke to Sky Sports about his decision to abandon his teammates.

It was a strange quirk that after speaking openly about his struggles, something which normally elicits the most understanding of responses, many suddenly changed their opinions.

“I’m not crazy, I was just burnt out,” Trott said, and used a series of words such as ‘nutcase’ and ‘mad’ that turned some commentators against him.

Michael Vaughan, the ex-England captain, accused Trott of using depression as an excuse to leave a tour where he had been exposed to top quality fast bowling.

Former England bowler Matthew Hoggard, who struggled with his own mental health problems, accused Trott of letting the side down.

For those who face a daily battle with mental illness, Trott’s honesty about his situation was refreshing.

Terri Torevell, the Communications Officer at Hulme-based Anxiety UK said public figures were helping change attitudes towards mental health issues.

“The general public seems to be more understanding of conditions like depression and that is a positive development,” she told MM.

“Anxiety, however, does not always enjoy the same understanding and is seen by many as something you can just snap out of.”

The charity have worked closely with Trescothick to raise further awareness of anxiety and how it can affect anyone, be it high-profile sports stars or the man next door.

“As far as we are aware, the reasons for Trott’s departure in November are not clear,” Terri said.

“He mentioned in a number of interviews that he felt ‘burnt out’ which can mean different things to different people.

“At the time, however, it sounded like it could have been down to anxiety or another mental health condition.”

Jane Taylor has worked extensively with mental health patients across Lancashire and Yorkshire and now runs a recovery college in Barnsley.

The aim of the college is to encourage people to come together and speak about their problems.

Each of the courses are constructed by Jane and a patient who suffers from a specific type of mental illness, which ranges from schizophrenia to anxiety.

It is a way of helping people cope with day to day life.

“There’s absolutely been an increase in cases of depression,” she told MM.

“There’s a great deal of expectation on people to live life at a much faster pace than what our parents did or even 10, 15 years ago.

“It’s not a case of if you’re working, you can provide for yourself and your family: even people in work are struggling.”

Jane says this issue in particular has had a massive impact on men.

“In a different guise to what I saw in the miners’ strike, there’s a lot of hopeless, depression and anxiety and the sad thing is that it’s exactly the same,” she told MM.

“We haven’t moved on in 30 years. It’s still the same – depression in still something we don’t talk about, it’s still something that’s perceived as being weak and that you’re not strong.”

Jane also rejected claims made by critics who said Trott describing himself as ‘going crazy’ was offensive to those who have mental health problems.

“If you say ‘I think I’m going mad,’ people know straight away what you are talking about,” she said.

“As soon as you use those words, it becomes acceptable to use them and good on him for speaking like that.

“Words like ‘crazy’ and ‘maniac’ – even if we say we’re not judgemental, straight away we have an idea in our head of what that person looks like and what should happen to that person.

“When Trott said that, people were able to relate to him. People will have heard that and known exactly what he means.”

Terri also agrees with the assessment that stars speaking openly can encourage others to seek help.

“It can have a positive effect as it can encourage others to talk about their own experiences with mental health difficulties,” she said.

“It also normalises conditions like anxiety, panic and phobias to hear that others are similarly affected.”

Trott faces an uphill battle to return to international cricket. Despite the considerable support there will always be those who feel he simply gave up when his team needed him most.

He began the county cricket season playing for Warwickshire but after two games he again withdrew from cricket, stating that he needed more time to recover.

Yet if Trott’s plight can help highlight the daily struggles people with mental health problems face, then some positives will come from the whole experience.

Image courtesy of Rae Allen.

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