Athlete depression on the increase?  


By: Anjela BIGNELL

Published: 28/04/2006 

Is the increased pressure on athletes to perform at high standards contributing to a rise in clinical depression among sporting participants?

Elite athletes may convey an aura of self-confidence on the field or in the water, but beneath the public persona is a person who may be struggling with feelings of depression.

Six times world surf champion Layne Beachley is no stranger to depression. Known for being somewhat brazen in the public eye and aggressively confident in her chosen sport, Beachley has now spoken out about the pressure and levels of expectation that eventually led her into a spiral of depression.

“I absolutely hit the depths of depression,” Beachley said in an interview on ABC’s Radio National. “I had no desire to surf, no desire to live. And it's just really important for people to acknowledge that it (depression) exists in today's society.

“I mean, no matter how great your life is, or no matter how wonderful things seem on the outside, there's usually a bit of a dark horse on the inside that a lot of people are dealing with.”

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett is the Chairman of Beyond Blue, a health promotion organisation that enforces the awareness of depression in society. Kennett said on ABC’s Radio National that athletes tend to enter a “cocoon” at a very young age, without the same challenges of every day life that most common people have.

He said they are more likely to fall into the depths of depression if they can no longer perform to the standard of their elite sport.

Associate Professor Ray James, co-ordinator of Mentally Healthy WA said there is no more particular emphasis on the increase of depression within athletes than there is in the general population.

“There are more people suffering from depression these days but I think athletes are a part of this group of people, so of course there will be more suffering from it,” Prof James said.

According to the Australian Institute of Sport, athletes now have access to an extended network of clinical and personal counselling specialists, which spread beyond the professional boundaries and help treat illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

However, those that don’t have access to these facilities can find it hard to find the support they need.

Beachley said she dealt with her depression "by talking to friends and family, by relying on those very dear friends of mine that obviously believe in me a lot more than I believe in myself at times, and just allowing it to happen.

"I didn't criticise myself too much.”