In The News

09 Oct 2013

Why sport needs to talk about its mental health secrets


“I only felt pain – being numb was better.”

If Graeme Fowler, an English cricketer who scored a century against West Indies when that was something to ring church bells for, was talking about a broken thumb you would not bat an eyelid.

Injuries are occupational hazards in professional sport. Everybody gets them and everybody has to get over them.

But what if this is an injury you cannot see? What if the pain is in your head and you cannot tell anybody about it?

Fowler was one of the most exciting domestic batsmen of the 1980s and never looked like a man in turmoil at the crease, which was more than could usually be said of the national team.

This image of a man without too many cares was seemingly confirmed by his reputation as a dressing-room joker and later as a cheery presence in the BBC broadcasting booth.

But by 2004 his occasional bouts of dark introspection had become serious. He had not left the house for six weeks and was unable to do even the simplest of tasks.

The coping strategies that got him through previous episodes – days spent in front of the television, with the curtains drawn and the phone off the hook – had stopped working, and his family was worried.

He would eventually get help in the form of counselling and “massive medication” – an experience he describes as “like living behind plate glass” – and the 56-year-old now fills his time with media work and coaching at Durham University.

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BBC Sport


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