“I could have said that I am not feeling great mentally and need to get away from the game. But you never know how that’s taken.” Virat Kohli recounted his own struggles earlier in his career and threw a spotlight on how mental health might be treated among sportsmen in the subcontinent.
Kohli came out in support of fellow cricketer Glen Maxwell from Australia who recently announced a break from cricket because of mental health issues.
Maxwell, one of the world’s best batsman in the T20s format, left Australia’s squad last month during a series against touring Sri Lanka. Hence his sudden announcement came as a shock to cricketing fraternity and his fans.
Thankfully, Glen was backed by his team and support staff with Cricket Australia saying he was a “special player” and they hoped to see him back in the summer.
It is perhaps, commendable that cricketers like Virat speak about their struggles and reveal that there is nothing weak about admitting to facing mental health issues . Since the announcement, Indian cricketer Virat Kohli, praised Maxwell for putting his health before the game.
“What Glenn has done is remarkable and has set the right example for cricketers all over the world that if you’re not in the best frame of mind you try, and try and try, but as human beings you reach a tipping point at some stage or the other.”
“And you need time away from the game … just to gain more clarity … These things should be respected and not taken in a negative way at all because this is happening at a human level.”
Discussion of stress-related issues might be seen as a sign of weakness in the subcontinent, it might even mean forfeiting your place in the team. So even though players from other countries have quit tours because of mental health issues, Indian and Pakistani players have yet to be able to address these issues publicly.
This is why, it is doubly important for our athletes and sports persons to speak up in support of the problem. Kohli mentioned his own struggles earlier in his career:
“I have gone through a phase in my career where it was the end of the world,” said Kohli.
“In England 2014 I just didn’t know what to do, what to say to anyone, how to speak, how to communicate. It should be fine for cricketers to take a break and try and return refreshed.”
It is imperative to note that sportsmen and women fall prey to mental health issues in the competitive environment they train in today. Not only that, but their hectic schedules require a very skillfully juggled work-life balance that might mean something snaps somewhere. If they don’t perform professionally, they’re out of a career, and if they don’t have a fulfilling family life, they’re going to feel it at some point in their lives.
Recently 16 year old Pakistani cricketer Naseem Shah lost his mother while on tour in Australia. Naseem is a young player and chose not to attend his mother’s funeral and stay back to continue the tour. Participating team mates and Australian cricketers wore black arm bands on the field as a mark of condolence for the young cricketer. However, the 16 year old is still grieving an insurmountable loss. That, combined with the pressure to perform at the tender age of 16, means we must begin to understand how this will affect his mental frame of mind?
Earlier this year, Pakistani cricketer Asif Ali joined the world cup squad after losing his 2 year old daughter to cancer. There was a fiery debate on social media whether he should even have been allowed to go on tour seeing his fragile mental state, with others insisting he needed the career boost and financial support.
Add to the list, woman footballer Hajra Khan has been a very vocal ambassador of support for mental health issues. She herself underwent therapy for depression and is actively supporting the cause and publicly fighting her battle – so that others may benefit.
It is imperative that we have a team psychologist, therapist, councilor on board to support the mental well-being of all players. Especially those undergoing a mental trauma regarding family issues. This will not only help alleviate the trauma a sportsperson faces (with the pressure to perform), but also helps remove the stigma that mental health issues carry with it. Esp. when the afflicted is a sportsman or woman – one who is driven by rugged, hard core performance, aggression on the field and winning at all costs.
It is indeed heartening that players like Virat and Hajra speak out about heir mental health issues, making them more real, and acceptable in society.
Shazia likes to pen her thoughts when she feels passionately about a life experience, a person or an event. She is mother to 3 lively boys and along with her husband, attempts to settle in her new country by taking German lessons so she is able to soak in the culture, language and spirit of the region.
“Wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and exhale! Keep on living with a passion that inspires others! “