How to handle mental health issues? Sportsmen spell out

India captain Virat Kohli, former cricketer Amol Muzumdar, hockey star P.R. Sreejesh and a sports psychologist give their views on depression among athletes.

Published : Dec 06, 2019 08:00 IST

Former Mumbai cricketer Amol Muzumdar in action in his prime.
Former Mumbai cricketer Amol Muzumdar in action in his prime.

Former Mumbai cricketer Amol Muzumdar in action in his prime.


The urge to give up

I almost gave up cricket at the end of the 2002-03 season. It wasn’t a mental health issue as such but I was frustrated, and tired. I didn’t realise it until almost the end of the season. By then I had almost given up. I packed my kit bag and stuffed it in the loft.

The moment I realised something was amiss in the head, I admitted it to my family. I spoke with my wife and father and said that I just didn’t want to play cricket. But I had signed a contract in England and my dad asked me to keep my promise. “If you want to give up after that, give up, fine. But keep the commitment that you have made,” he said, because I had signed a contract. And in England I found my way.

When I was a kid, I used to hit a hanging ball about 500 times a day. But over the eight or nine years I had played Ranji Trophy for Mumbai, I had never bothered to do that.

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Somehow my dad had slipped a hanging ball into my bag and in England I got the chance to resume the routine. I hung the ball right beside my bed. When I woke up, I picked up a bat and hit 200 balls. Before sleeping I hit another 200. So in a day I almost hit about 400-500 hanging balls. And the passion started coming back.

Now when I look at it and all the talk about the mental health of cricketers, I don’t think it should be blown out of proportion. It is something that cricketers are used to dealing with in their own way. Cricket in so many ways is a lonely game and you have to deal with that loneliness somehow. Yes, it’s a team sport and the team matters but at the end of the day, you are judged on your own performance.

— Amol Muzumdar, former Mumbai captain

Being open helps

I think there’s definitely more awareness about mental health in general, not just in sport. There’s a mental health week and a mental health day that are celebrated. The awareness of depression, especially with Deepika Padukone speaking about it, is also high.

Players are obviously human beings and if they also feel such symptoms, it has to be looked at through the same lens. The overall ecosystem is giving more attention to mental health and so people are feeling more confident to be vocal about it.

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If I have a problem with my kidney, for example, I know what to do to cure it. If I see a mental health problem also in the same light, I will seek help. But the tendency is to keep these feelings to yourself because the people around you don’t take you seriously.

Fortunately, with the athletes, we work for performance enhancement and don’t see such dismissive attitudes about mental health from the peripheries. With the kind of work we do, we ensure that the athletes don’t end up with a mental illness.

I would also like to stress that competitive sportspersons in their teens need to be treated differently than other teenagers primarily because their immediate environments are very different. A competitive athlete or a high performance athlete is giving a lot of time and trying to balance sport as well as education, at least in the Indian system. Whereas someone who is not into sport, even recreationally, he or she is only focussed on academics. That’s a huge difference.

Gayatri Vartak, an international badminton player-turned sport psychologist

Psychologists can help draw people out

Psychology is not a realm where you get results overnight. I think if you really want to get a psychologist on board, you need to do the work early. It is up to the individual on how to cope with pressure.

P.R. Sreejesh.

I have the experience of so many years, I don’t need to get advice from a person (about my game). But sometimes when you feel like you need to share something with someone and you are not comfortable talking about it to the coach or other players, then you keep it to yourself. These are areas where psychologists can help you.

P. R. Sreejesh, India hockey goalkeeper

Key players should be looked after

Everyone is focussed on his job. It is difficult to know what is going in the other person’s mind. I have also gone through a phase in my career when I thought it’s the end of the world. In England 2014, I didn’t know what to do, what to say to anyone, how to speak or how to communicate.

“I couldn’t have said I am not feeling great and I need to get away from the game". You never know how that is taken. These things should be of great importance. If you think a player is important enough for Indian cricket, he should be looked after. At the international stage, every player needs that communication and the ability to speak up.

Virat Kohli, Indian cricket captain

(Compiled by Team Sportstar)

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