Saturday, January 4, 2014

Depression and Cricket

''Meet it and you do not see its face. Follow it and you do not see its back.''

- Lao Tzu

This is serious as we are beginning to hear more about depression within cricket circles. Is it an excuse to cop out, or something more? Actually its more than feeling low and when it affects someone it can be a serious illness. Getting through the day can be difficult and through life may seem impossible. This is why people with depression find it difficult to function each day as it affects their physical and mental health and robs them of the ability to think rationally. A cycle of depression can occur after a setback drags on and then other things happen which multiple the situation and the problem seem far worse.

Cricket is not immune and we have seen a number of cricketers affected by it in different ways over the years. A small, but significant number have taken their own lives by not being able to cope. Does the nature of cricket lead to frustration and disappointment? According to David Frith in his book 'Silence of the Heart, Cricket Suicides' professional cricketers statistically are more likely to take their own life than any other group of men in the west.

As you may have read earlier in this book, negative thinking affects feelings and therefore emotions. In sport psychology 'speak' depression is linked to burn out, mental exhaustion and unexplained underperformance syndrome - however they are all the same illness.

Knowledge is the first step in helping team mates who are suffering. ''Pull yourself together'' just will not work, neither is it advisable to sit back and say nothing if you know someone who is stumbling through. Look out for your team mates and assist where you can.

Everyone goes through hard times at some point in their careers, so it is important to have good friends and colleagues to help through the personal struggles of fitness, injury, form, family or work. At times like these it can be hard to know what to do, how to help your friend, or find it hard to ask for help if it affect you.

Diagnosis must be left to medical experts, however to understand something about depression it is important to understand how people can suffer from it. There are several features that can cause a cricketer to be depressed. Research has shown that depression can run in families for generations. Trauma and stress from financial problems, relationship breakdowns, family bereavement can all bring on depression.

Injury and illness can contribute to depression, partly because of the physical weakness and stress it brings on, while depression can make medical conditions worse as it weakens the immune system. Some medications can cause depression.

Depression may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, but these are due to the emotions being felt, or more likely, emotions not being felt and expressed, but being suppressed and bottled in. As the subconscious harbours negative and unhappy thoughts, the chemicals which makes us feel good, decrease.

Those good-feel chemicals are serotonin, dopamine and intrinsic endorphins. Serotonin manages contentment and plays a role in our quantity of appetite, aggression, anger, mood and sleep. Dopamine is associated with the feelings we get from reward after achieving a goal. People who lack dopamine are unmotivated and depressed. Endorphins are produced during strenuous exercise, excitement and sex and help us decide whether an experience is pleasurable or painful.

People become a slave to their minds and their emotions. Strong and traumatic events create turmoil in their lives. Anger turned inwards, unexpressed trapped emotions, repressed negative feelings, psychosomatic illness all cause feelings leading to phobia, panic attacks, extreme stress and depression.

There are numerous forms of depression. Slightly different symptoms may require different treatments. Briefly a major depression, also known as clinical depression, is classed as a depressed mood that lasts for at least two weeks. Psychotic depression is a depressed mood when the sufferers hallucinate, they see and hear things that are not there. There is also paranoia where they feel everyone is against them. Dysthymia is a less severe depressed mood which can last for years. There is mixed depression and anxiety which shows a combination of symptoms and bipolar disorder, formally known as manic depressive disorder which involves periods of feeling down reversed by feeling high.

How do you know if a person is depressed or just going through a bad time? There are some indications when sadness could progress to depression. Someone could be depressed if for more than two weeks they have been down, miserable or sad a majority of the time, or they have lost interest or enjoyment in most of their usual activities and experienced the warning signs in at least three of the following four categories:

1. Behaviour. They have stopped going out, they are not getting things done, turning to alcohol and sedatives, unable to concentrate and withdrawing from family and friends,

2. Feelings. Disappointment, frustration, guilt, indecisive, irritable, lack confidence, miserable, overwhelmed, unhappy.

3. Physical. Churning stomach, headaches, loss of appetite, muscular pains, run down, sleep problems, tiredness, weight loss or gain.

4. Irrational thoughts. ''I'm a failure,'' it's my fault,'' I'm worthless,'' my life's bad.''

It's not always easy to help a team mate because you may not know what to do or say for the best. Maybe they say they don't want any help. They have to accept they have a problem before it can be resolved. Denial can make it difficult for someone to take the first step in seeking help. Its important to stick with your team mates when times are rough for them, even if its just to listen. They need support from friends and family as well as doctors and psychologists.

To help someone show them interest. Encourage them to explain what they are thinking and feeling. Listen without interrupting. Don't show shock on your face. Don't make light of what they are saying. Don't look for quick fix solutions. Sympathise. Ask them what do they want to do about the problem.

Don't place more pressure on your mate by telling them to ''snap out of it.'' Don't avoid them. Don't pressure them to party more. Alcohol and substance abuse often appear alongside depression. Discourage your team mate or friend from using them. Eating disorders and anxiety also appear with depression.

Antidepressants from the doctor don't always help as it can become difficult to come off certain types due to withdrawal symptoms including anxiety. Correct counselling along with meditation enables the sufferer to adjust and change for the better. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been recommended to combat mild to moderate depression as it breaks habitual negative thinking. Just talking to a counsellor can be a blessing. The counsellor may ask the sufferer to keep a diary and write down whenever they feel angry, anxious, guilty or upset in any way and describe what the feelings would achieve. This can challenge negative thoughts by considering positive alternatives.

Previous sufferers of clinical depression who have come off prescription drug addiction demonstrate a glimmer of hope with the mantra 'meditation not medication' relegating the grim period of their lives into the past. For some, medication can be the answer while others will respond better to CBT.

Help your mate get information, perhaps from a library, health centre or website. Help them make an appointment and go along with them if that is their wish. Have them remember past achievements and successes. Use guided visualisation with an outcome toward positive results, you learned visualisation earlier, didn't you! Encourage the person to get further involved in the club's social activities, fund raising or coaching juniors if appropriate.

Supporting someone who needs it can sometimes be difficult and emotionally draining, especially over an extended period. You don't have to go through it on your own. Find your own team mates, colleagues or counsellors to talk to. Make sure you continue to enjoy your cricket and other activities, take time out to have some fun and keep things in perspective.

The above article is taken from the authors book, A Mind 4 Cricket.

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