Sports stars leading the way for us all in fight against depression

by Gazette Reporter
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I’m just back from a trip to a place called Vallendar near Koblenz in Germany where England player Mark Selby and myself were joined by Belgian cueman Luca Brecel for an exhibition game.

The place was packed to the rafters and when you get 650 people at an exhibition game, you know snooker is on the up. The German Masters in Berlin is a sell-out with something like 15,000 tickets sold, so it was good to be there, helping to spread the gospel.

Our game is going through something of a renaissance not just in Ireland and Britain but across the globe. Unlike golf, which seems to be splintering with the Live Tour under Greg Norman, the powers that be in snooker are eager to spread its popularity whenever they can.

However, that’s not the reason I’m writing this column this week – it is to focus on another side of the game which is often kept quiet. Mark is an outstanding player but you could argue that his finest contribution to the game was in making public the battle he has waged against depression.

 I know Ronnie O’Sullivan has also gone public with the demons he has had to face and speaking to Mark on the way over and back on the subject, made me think how important it is that we get the message out there that it is ok to be depressed or feeling isolated and lonely.

What is even more important though is that players acknowledge their predicament, talk to their families about it and then go, as an initial step, to their GP and seek help to get them back to where they would like to be.

Snooker is a lonely sport, especially if you are not qualifying for events or if you are going down the rankings. It happens to us all at one time or another but I know when I started out and was lacking in confidence, it was taboo to show any ‘weakness’ by speaking of such hidden subjects.

Thankfully that has changed a lot in the intervening years and the likes of Ronnie and Mark have played their part in that. So too have GAA and soccer and rugby players but there are still some people who suffer in silence and are afraid to make their problem public.

So if you are reading this today as a player, mentor or just a fan, don’t delay if you are suffering from depression or some other mental illness to talk to someone. If you can’t raise it with your teammates, maybe try broaching the subject with a mentor. Probably the best way is to talk to a sibling, or you parents. I can guarantee you that no one will make little of you and indeed will go out of their way to help you any way they can.

Depression can strike at any age and if you are a schoolboy or girl who is not making it in a team or can’t play because of injury, that can be very tough times mentally on you.  You often think you are alone in the way you feel but the reality is we have all gone through it at one time or another and really all we need is to share our load and that is the first step towards improving how you feel.

I mentioned schoolgirls a moment ago and it is great to see that sport now has female GAA, soccer, rugby and other teams playing. That means individual players will feel isolated or down in the dumps for one reason or another but it shouldn’t mean that they suffer in silence.

Thank God we’ve reached the stage as a country where we no longer put labels on people who need psychiatric help and instead largely view it as we would a physical ailment like a bad back or a broken leg.

So seek help if you need a leg up and I guarantee you it will be the best thing you ever did. Mark Selby said by making that decision his life changed for the better… and even more than that, he changed a lot of others who took his example and spoke about their ailment.

PHOTO – Ken Doherty (Right) with Luca Brecel and Mark Selby

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