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Sports and mental health


Paul Hayes


24/10/2017 12:00:00 AM

The bracingly honest words from 25-year-old AFL footballer Alex Fasolo about his struggles with depression have highlighted the fact issues of mental health can affect anyone, even professional athletes who are often revered as near-gods.
 

Wayne Schwass encourages athletes struggling with their mental health to open up
Wayne Schwass encourages athletes struggling with their mental health to open up

‘For about two or three games in a row – before I went, “I need to do something here” – I’d finish the game, I’d walk into the doctor’s office, hide from everyone and just sit in the corner and just cry,’ Fasolo, who plays for the Collingwood Magpies, wrote in The Players Voice.
 
The pressures of public scrutiny and competition can become overwhelming, and fame and sporting prowess do not necessarily insulate people from issues such as anxiety and depression. While Fasolo does not solely blame his depression on life as a professional footballer, he does acknowledge its role.
 
‘I could be laying bricks, nine to five, Monday to Friday, and I’d probably still be battling with [depression]. But playing footy doesn’t help,’ he wrote. ‘I think being in the spotlight amplifies it.’
 
Wayne Schwass is a former professional AFL player who experienced depression during his 14 years on the field from 1988–2002. When diagnosed as a younger person, however, the social stigma that accompanied the condition prevented him from openly discussing his issues.
 
Schwass, now a mental health advocate through his social enterprise Puka Up, applauds the courage of professional athletes who discuss their own struggles.
 
‘I think what’s really important is any time that a person like an Alex Fasolo, Lance Franklin, Mitch Clark, Andrew Johns, Layne Beachley, Leisel Jones, Libby Trickett, Barry Hall … speaks openly about their challenges with mental health conditions, the impact that has on the broader community and within their sports is profound,’ he told the RACGP.
 
‘There are two really important things that happen when people with such high profiles do that: it illustrates to the broader community that mental health conditions don’t discriminate; and it gives a tremendous amount of hope to people who are battling with these conditions on a daily basis in private.
 
‘I think that’s a really important message to send to the broader community.’
 
According to Dr Peter Baquie, a GP turned sports and exercise physician who served as the doctor for the Australian 2004 Olympics team and for several AFL clubs, it is vital for the doctors who work with athletes to always be mindful that they live with the same vulnerabilities as anyone else.
 
‘We sometimes get a little overawed at the excellence [athletes] have in their sport and perhaps forget that they are also fragile human beings, such as anyone,’ he told the RACGP. ‘We’ve got to be cognisant of both of those sides.’
 
 



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