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Freddie Flintoff and friends did a great job for depression last night

Posted on 12 January 2012 | 8:01am

Congratulations to Freddie Flintoff and the BBC for last night’s documentary on depression in sport. Sport plays such a central part in so many lives, and I have no doubt that the collection of sportsmen gathered by Freddie to talk about their own mental health problems will do a lot of good in advancing change and understanding. Every single one of them would be a great addition to the roster of Time to Change ambassadors.

Perhaps the most surreal scene was of Freddie and ‘hardman’ Vinnie Jones swapping notes on how their team-mates would have reacted to being told of their depression. Both pointed out that times have changed, but there is still insufficient understanding of depression as an illness. I liked Freddie’s description of it as ‘a psychological injury,’ and I found the interplay between him and Steve Harmison, who clearly gets it badly, really moving.

Anyway, many thanks from Time to Change and anyone with an interest in changing attitudes on mental illness to Freddie, Steve, Vinnie, Graham Dott, Matthew Syed, Barry McGuigan, Neil Fairbrother, Ricky Hatton and Neil Lennon. Lennon, once a player and now manager with Celtic, spoke with a lot of power and set an example to other employers in saying his door was always open to young players who wanted to open up about psychological struggle.

What with Freddie’s film and today’s report from the Children’s Society on children’s happiness, today is a good day to publish my ebook, The Happy Depressive. I do have a section on sport, where I manage to weave in my daily mention of having played with Diego Maradona, and more seriously reflect a little on the suicides of Robert Enke and Gary Speed, as well as the incredible good sport can do for mental health.

The Times has a piece on the ebook today, leading their story on my call for more MPs to be open about their depression. Put like that, it risks coming over harshly, which I don’t intend it to. But I am in no doubt that having more and more people talk openly about their mental health, as the sportsmen did last night, will be of benefit to the people concerned, and to society as a whole.

One of the points I make in The Happy Depressive is that at a time NHS spending is under pressure, mental health services tend to go to the back of the queue for spending. it is happening already. That is why mental illness needs ambassadors inside and outside Parliament who will bring these issues more into the open, and fight for the support they need.

Some attention has been paid to the fact that I am not my usual tribal anti-Tory self in the way I write about David Cameron in The Happy Depressive. That is because I do think it is a good idea to put happiness and well-being at the heart of policymaking. What is important is that he is now held to that commitment. And the more there are of us to do it, the better it will be.

If he doesn’t deliver, we can always set Feeddie and Vinnie and Ricky on him. That’ll learn him.

  • Absolutely moving and a true inspiration.
    Maybe there can be change, maybe solid prejudice might melt and thaw.
    I commend those brave and bold enough to speak, communicate and campaign for change.

  • Laura Payne

    Mental health services have been cut by a staggering 30%. In these times this is political madness – all puns intended. I know of one unit, an acute ward, where they now have just one clinical psychologist who has been put on a 3 day week. We are in danger of just drugging people up & chucking them back into the community.

  • Michael

    Commented via twitter last night but unable to add my Father suffered with long term depression resulting in being sectioned to Bansted – he quickly went down hill probably due to the horrific barbaric treatment they felt he required – as a 17 year old my visits to see him there will haunt me for the rest of my life! not to mention the fact that they released him saying all was much better and within 48 hours I awoke to find him hanging from our loft. What also needs to be discussed is the impact it Depression has on the family and friends

  • Richard

    The programme was a terrific contribution to the education of the public.But why was it shown at 10.30 pm? It should have preceded/followed Question of Sport, in order that maximum exposure could be achieved amongst sports fans.
    Sadly, I feel that it will be  a very long time before sportsmen can “come out” whilst they are still playing as the press/audience/crowd would tear them to shreds. The clubs would not want their multi million pound investments to line themselves up for ridicule, for that is what would follow.
    (Similarly, if a government minister made such a statement concerning their mental illness, they would be toasted.)
    That AC and so many past sportsmen can line up and tell their stories is a terrific start to change being made in public understanding. However they all have “nothing to lose” by their outing themselves.
    When the issue of race is clearly alive and well among some top footballers,one wonders how they would treat opponents with depression.
    I hope Neil Lennon does not suffer further from his honesty about his own illness. 

  • Michele

    Brilliant programme and some surprising (to me) other sufferers.  Their extreme highs (from fame as well as from hormones) must make the lows feel even more extreme.

  • Michele

    I just looked across at the middle section and saw the title of the past blog ‘Black Dog means no blog from no-so-Happy Depressive’ … wish I hadn’t been thinking aloud as it’s such a tongue twister.

    Anyway AC it occurs to me that a blog is itself a 7dpw responsibility and even if you don’t always feel like writing it means you still have the responsibility to look in to read every so often and that must involve some strain when there are posts you hate but you’ve taken on the duty to put them through so long as they’re not totally obscene.  I must say I am in awe of both your and Fiona’s ability to hear and not always respond, knowing your views are known already.

    Oooops, change of subject in closing; 1.20pm and Jenny Tonge (not ever my favourite MP but a great Dame) is being brilliant on WaTO, totally anti-coalition. 

  • Michele

    Tssssk at self …. ‘not always feel like’ also encompasses those times when you have to prioritise other responsibilities / consultations.

  • gillian currie

    If depression is a mental illness why is felt in the stomach?
    Des Currie

  • Carmel Hennessy

    I agree with you, it was an excellent documentry. I thought Graham Dott spoke well, I was impressed with him and I didn’t know he suffered from depression. Was it focused on sports MEN as opposed to sports people because women are more likely to talk about it?

    Also unless I misheard I thought Freddie said at the start that 1 in 10 sports stars suffer with depression. I know excersize is good for mood etc but by being a sports star is it really possible to lessen ones chances of getting depression by that much since for people who are not sports stars they have a 1 in 4 chance of getting depression or some form of mental health problem?

    Even those of us on this side of the water are so lucky to have people in the public eye who talk about this and I thank you all for doing so. Thinking back to about 20 years ago when an uncle of mine was sunned because he had a breakdown at least things are getting fairer for us sufferers now, in some places anyway, my family still think it’s a weakness in me and that it’s my own fault. By learning from others including public figures I know my family is wrong. It helps me to know that.

  • Michele

    Isn’t your ‘nothing to lose’ mis-placed?
    Everyone needs a career and a record for reliability throughout their life even after their most high-profile role is past.
    What those guys were talking about (and it goes for plenty of women and, sadly for some children) was the fear of ridicule or loss of face – the accusation of not being ‘able to take it’, whatever their environment.
    But a person isn’t necessarily depressed because of matters in real life, it can be a chemical thing and especially in competitive ‘trades’.
    There’s also the fear of frightening family by mentioning it or causing them to worry and the ever-present fear of depression returning once it’s lifted.
    Drugs and diet changes have a lot to offer – I’d not be surprised to hear pro athletes’ diets change a lot of their feelings.
    The ups and downs of some careers / industries mean people’s seratonin levels jump and drop.

    On and on I go 🙁

  • Erik

    Fantastic programme indeed; I really admire Freddie Flintoff for it. Many thanks to you as well Alastair for keeping up the important work even in less happy times; I hope you will feel better soon.

  • Anonymous

    Will have to fire up the old iplayer and watch this. Are all those names mentioned actually sufferers of depression? Its incredible to think that even people who are ‘mentally strong’ (they had to be to get where they are) and appear to have ‘everything’ ie fame, power, money, beautiful wives – can still get depressed.

    Speaking of TV, was wondering if anyone was catching “Borgen” the new Danish political drama on BBC4?

  • Michele

    It occurs to me after hearing yet another review criticising the film ‘The Iron Lady’ for also representing Mrs T as she is now that it links with this topic.

    No blame can be attached to Mrs T for the ageing process and how it’s affected her mind so what shame or spite is there in the film portraying what’s become ‘even’ of her?

    Surely the more we understand how mindsets can be affected by the strains put on bodies (whether by working hours/bad nutrition/too little or too much exercise) the better? 

  • Michele

    Commiserations re your unsympathetic family Carmel.

  • Michele

    Your use of ‘mentally strong’ typifies the prejudice that suggest it’s better for a person to keep quiet about depression, even expressing any knowledge about it.

    Try googling ‘physical causes for depression’.

  • Anonymous

    Michele you are absolutely right.
    After I posted this I regretted how it came across.
    Didn’t know whether to edit it or leave it and disagree with myself afterwards.

    The point I mean to make is that part of the stigma is that some people think that depressed people are not mentally strong. Which is absurd when you think people like Abraham Lincoln, Churchill, Alastair Campbell and Vinny Jones suffer from it.

    Unfortunately I have plenty of knowledge of “physical causes of depression”. I believe just about anyone can suffer from it if they are unfortunate enough to suffer from certain physical causes.

  • @lordneil

    I completely agree.  It’s why I’m so annoyed that so many NHS targets and investment during the Blair years were aimed mainly at elective surgery and waiting times.  It would have been better to focus on mental health and long term illnesses.

    Elective is short term interventions, very much politically expedient.  MH and LTC are much more longer term issue and don’t seem to attract the same political focus.

    Whilst I think that Labour did great things with the NHS during your time in the halls of power, I think that you missed a huge opportunity here.

  • Dave Simons

    ‘Everyone needs a career’

    Everyone? In the late 1960s there was an organisation called ‘Uncareers’. I was never a member but I share the sentiment in that I’ve never been able to stand careerists. Some of us just want to earn an honest living and then have time to pursue whatever interests us – in my case anything but sport. Was Buddha a careerist? I’ve always found people so much nicer to know when their career plans fail and they start spending time asking “Who are we? What are we doing here? What’s it all about? Etc”.

  • Carmel Hennessy

    Thanks Michele

  • Michele

    You’re putting a spin on a word that I hadn’t meant.
    A career (in the vernacular according to MB) is something that pays the bills in as enjoyable a way as possible.  Hence my ‘everyone’ (not to mention my ‘even after their most high-profile role is past’).
    You seem to be translating it for me in to something about status.

    Stop looking for a Friday night scrap ….hic.

  • Michele

    Welcome Carmel and thanks for being more gracious than I usually manage reaguns.

    Night night.

  • Anonymous

    ” I’ve always found people so much nicer to know when their career plans fail and they start spending time asking “Who are we? What are we doing here? What’s it all about? Etc”.”
    Its possible to do both Dave, when I worked for civil service departments I asked myself those questions every day!

  • Anonymous

    ” it means you still have the responsibility to look in to read every so often and that must involve some strain when there are posts you hate but you’ve taken on the duty to put them through so long as they’re not totally obscene.  I must say I am in awe of both your and Fiona’s ability to hear and not always respond, knowing your views are known already”

    Do you actually think its Alastair and Fiona who moderate this? I doubt it personally. Most moderation is done by offshore IT people is it not… or if its inshore thought it would be a researcher or whoever hosts/runs the website?

  • Ehtch

    Sport, and obviously at the very top, gets the adrenaline going more than anything in civvy street – only going into battle has the same effect, albeit sport without so much of the life-threatening factor. And high bursts of adrenaline no doubt affects the mind in strange ways, long term. Around the age of forty is an extra difficult time for top sports people, no doubt, men especially, due to the extra machismo involved in the male sex, when that buzz disappears.

    Noticed many top sports people suffering those affects in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I was young, and it is obvious now who they were, looking back.

  • Anonymous

    So long as you do what Freddie did and do not claim benefits

  • Anonymous

    No worries. I should have added that I believe people can get depression from physical causes, from events, but also when neither of these things are present. Actually come to think of it, when you say physical causes do you mean depressed by a physical ailment or disability or do you mean physical things in the brain? Anyway I believe all these things can cause it.

  • Michele

    I don’t know who actually passes things through reaguns but as lessee I’m sure AC has a responsibility to look in and has given Disqus a very wide brief.
    However, I was actually referring to TV appearances where both AC and FM show great cool even though they’re only invited to discussions about topics which they’re passionate.

  • Gilliebc

    reaguns, I’ve written before that I’m 99% sure that AC moderates his own blog site and I for one don’t blame him!  There are a lot of nasty people out there who delight in making nasty comments all over the web.

    It is AC’s site so it’s only right and fair that he moderates the comments himself.  I’m sure most of us are grateful that he still bothers to blog for us at all. 

    Looking at it from a purely practical view point reaguns, just consider the timing of when the comments get put onto the site, one doesn’t have to be a Marple or Poirot to see how they coincide and fit into AC’s other commitments and life pattern.

    It never ceases to amaze me just how unobservant many people are.  Having said that AC may say that he doesn’t do his own moderation?  I’m always up for being corrected 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Just read Alistair’s twitter questions and I’m not on twitter so answering here instead in case he reads this. More details available if required.

    “Still hoping Evan Davies will make a documentary on these mysterious credit rating agencies.”Don’t need to see it myself, but certainly Evan is the man to make it. It would only be useful if people watch it. Labour and Tories could do with reading Evans brilliant book “Made in Britain” about manufacturing and the British economy in general.

    “European Commissioner Olli Rehn almost certainly onto something in pointing out someonw will be making money out of downgrading in eurozone.”Yes. There are many people who can make money out of the eurozone, or other disasters. There are some simple principles to do so. I can point you at websites. I’ve made a bit myself on a small scale. Betting against stupid economies with stupid economic ideas, which applies to France, Europe and the Eurozone can be an easier way to make money. However don’t blame the traders, they cannot make money off properly run economies. Economies with low interest rates and quantitative easing are easy to bet against. These traders are a far more effective form of regulator than government will ever be.

    The credit rating agencies are a sham though. The US and France should have been downgraded long before they were and to a lower grade than they are at. There are some very simple rules, if your budget deficit or national debt (which by the way you never taught your labour people the difference between) goes above a certain level, or if you allow inflation to go to a certain level, you get downgraded.

    So if you don’t want downgrading, don’t do it.They let France and US go above those limits long before downgrading them. Thats the corruption you want to look at Alastair.
    If Labour understood this stuff (and Ed does know some of it) they could walk the next election.

  • Anonymous

    Alastair, again re your twitter questions about credit rating agencies.

    Some people have replied to say short sellers will make money off this. Thats true – thats what short sellers are supposed to do. When they see a company, a currency, or a country doing something idiotic, they short sell it. Because there are so many of them, and they have so much information about companies, they know long before any regulator ever will. Except when the government gets in their way.
    So they can short Freddie Mae, the Euro, France or whatever lets say if one of those was in a bubble, $500 billion overvalued. The bubble then gets popped, things are bad but thats the fault of the bubble inflaters. Without the short sellers the bubble could go to $1000 billion, it will still pop but repercussions will be worse.
    When you look at the pain that the likes of France are currently putting on to the likes of Greece – be glad for the credit raters and the short sellers – without them the Greek people would have to suffer for longer.

  • Pingback: The Time to Change campaign needs politicians as well as sports stars to open up about depression | Alastair Campbell()

  • Ehtch

    Might as well post some short vids who might have struggled upstairs, known and unknown today, but some might seem mighty obvious, as the first one,

    Special mention to Albert Johannson, one of the first black players to play at the top of the Football League, came over from South Africa in about 1960, who really struggled with himself after his career, tradgically. Is supposed to be the first black player ever to play in an FA Cup final as here for Leeds,

    And a modern day player still playing thankfully who has struggled with things upstairs affecting him in what he can do physically. GH, but the papers have not helped either,

    Sport on pitch and life off has become two fronts for top sportspeople these days it seems. The bleeding media get everywhere in life, the ‘do-dahs’ that they are, with their ‘do-dah’ cameras sticking it out everywhere at private times.

  • Michele

    I’m not sure how ‘unobservant’ fits with an avoidance of voicing one’s guessing. 
    I prefer to be deemed a knowall re other topics 🙂

  • Gilliebc

    I’m not sure that it does Michele. Except that while most of us like to give our opinions on the relatively small issues that concern us greatly and I like to play that game as much as anyone else, the fact remains that the chattering or twittering class have little or no influence on the way that this country and the wider world is really run.

    A small example of what I’m getting at:  Right now the government and the so-called opposition seem to be pretty much in agreement on the economic ‘way forward’ also there is agreement or at least no opposition on changes in education!

    Both main parties are in agreement also about the building of HS2 even though we are always being told how broke this country is.  Just as long as most of us are distracted by semi-important issues things will never change that much.  The rich will keep getting richer and the poor will keep getting poorer.  We live in a very unequal world and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

  • Liz

    I was impressed by your balanced view of Cameron in the book, although there is a healthy scepticism and a “wait and see” feeling which doesn’t make it cloyingly positive.  Sport is hugely important in both treating depression and in providing good role models and examples for people to look up to. I don’t recall any long-distance runners talking about their depression: either it staves it off or some of them need to come out about it, perhaps …

  • Ehtch

    Might as well post Alf Garnett going to the World Cup Final again, a brilliant clip it is, always liked Alf, silly moo and all that, scarse git an’ all,