Even Sports Superstars Suffer From Depression

by VR Sreeraman on  April 21, 2009 at 3:45 PM Mental Health News
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Public perception of elite sport as a world of emotionally stable athletes usually comes with the belief that success and glory brings the power to defy the problems of everyday life.
 Even Sports Superstars Suffer From Depression
Even Sports Superstars Suffer From Depression

But when things start to go wrong, are sport's heroes better equipped to dodge life's curve balls that can lead to depression in mind, body and career?

Some sufferers, like snooker star Ronnie O'Sullivan, appear to be fighting their way out of the void while others, like disgraced American cyclist Tyler Hamilton, admits his battle is far from over.

Depression rarely leads to fatal consequences, but the tragic death two weeks ago of Australian track cyclist Jobie Dajka has underlined the fact that those we worship can often be fragile in nature.

A world keirin champion in 2002, and considered one of the most gifted sprinters of his generation, Dajka's five-year emotional rollercoaster began with his omission from Australia's squad prior to the 2004 Olympics and came to an end on April 7 when he was found dead in his rented house in Adelaide.

In 2004, Dajka was accused of lying at a Cycling Australia (CA) inquiry into alleged doping and told he was not welcome in Athens, where Australia went on to secure their biggest ever Olympic track cycling medals haul.

Dajka struggled, lost touch and was soon battling alcohol-related and drink-driving charges. An assault on his former coach, Martin Barras, in 2005 then led to a three-year ban from the sport.

Former track great Gary Neiwand - who battled his own personal problems and tried twice to commit suicide - had been helping Dajka for the past year and said the 27-year-old was on the comeback trail.

Claiming Dajka had never got over missing the 2004 Olympics, he said his death should serve to highlight the dangers faced by top level athletes when they take a wrong turn.

"That is the case with Jobie, but I am not going to point fingers," said Neiwand, a four-time Olympic medallist.

O'Sullivan is regarded as the most naturally gifted snooker player of his generation, but he is no stranger to black moods.

The fact his father is nearing the end of a 17-year jail term for murdering a former bodyguard to London gangsters the Kray twins may in part explain some of O'Sullivan's social and sporting mis-cues.

But despite finally coming to terms with the 'demons' that sent him from drink to a drying-out clinic then onto Prozac, O'Sullivan says his depression can strike any time.

"When I can't play the bread-and-butter shots that make the game simple, I lose my rhythm and think, 'This ain't good.' All season I've been struggling with them feelings. I become nervous inside because I'm not sure what I'm going to produce next," he told the Guardian.

Citing the kind of exercise that has pleasure, and not pressure, as the main driving force, O'Sullivan's love affair with running has helped clear his mind.

For Hamilton, that same approach might be necessary now he has retired after last week's news of a positive test for a banned steroid in February - his second such test.

After shooting to fame as part of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France winning team, US Postal, in 1999 and 2000, Hamilton's fall from grace has been steady but now it is final.

Given his staunch denials to having blood-doped, which led to a first two-year ban in 2006, now he is fighting to convince doubts over his claims that the steroid-based ingredient for which he tested positive was found in a homeopathic supplement he was taking to treat depression.

Hamilton explained why he took the supplement.

"I was desperate. At the time I didn't think about the consequences. The people who suffer from the disease of depression understand my drastic decision," said Hamilton, who claims most of his family suffer from the illness. His grandmother committed suicide when his mother was 13 years old.

He added: "As an elite athlete, the public expects you to have perfect physical condition and also a perfect condition mentally, but that is not always the case.

"Athletes don't talk about it because it is a sign of weakness. It is nothing to be ashamed about, it's a disease. It effects lives and can take lives."

Source: AFP

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