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3 December 2009 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY

Where there’s life there’s hope

THE recent death by suicide of German soccer goalkeeper Robert Enke has given rise to a good deal of debate on depression in sport. A number of high-profile former leading sports people, including the boxer Frank Bruno and former New Zealand All Black John Kirwan, have been among those prominent in media discussions of the issue.
On the face of it, people involved in sport at a high level might appear to be among those least likely to suffer from depression, given the importance that not only physical but mental preparation has in elite sport. It is difficult to imagine that someone could maintain the necessary focus to compete at a high level while labouring under the often debilitating affects of ‘The Black Dog’. But perhaps with sportspeople the impact of depression follows a similar pattern to that of writers and musicians, where sometimes the worst periods come after the piece of music has been completed or the book written. Happiness is in the act of creation, or in sport of training and competing, and once that is over there is deflation and a void.
Most people experience something similar at various stages of their life and can pick themselves back up again. For people afflicted with depression, though, there is actually something innate within them that can turn normal episodes of sadness or disappointment or loss into prolonged bouts of not being able to function fully.
Apart from the psychological aspects, depression can lead to insomnia and other physical manifestations which, if they persist over a long period, can have a serious impact on a person’s ability to cope with the everyday demands of family, work, relationships and so on. In extreme circumstances, the person in such a predicament may decide that the only way to end their suffering is to end their life.
The key factor in Robert Enke’s decision to take his own life was the death three years ago of his young daughter. Apparently he had never come to terms with that and the persistence of the sadness which he felt because of it decided him that the only way to end it was to bring an end to his life. The fact that he has left his wife and another young child behind, however, complicates matters and proves that, whatever about the individual who actually kills themself, suicide is certainly not an end to suffering.

IT MAY be easy to condemn someone for the apparent selfishness of the act but that is to make a judgement without being fully aware of all that might be going on in another person’s life or in their own mind. Taking one’s own life is certainly not something that anyone does other than in extreme circumstances, even if those circumstances or problems might not appear beyond resolution to others.
I have known several people who have taken their own lives and they were all different but explicable in their own way, except one. In one case I would say that the person was acting from a sense of honour and his death probably actually saved others from worse anguish. I also knew another person who killed himself to save his family from a financial debt. They would much rather have had him and the debt but his motives were understandable and worthy of respect. It was a courageous act, even if misguided.
I have also known people who killed themselves over broken relationships, the inability to control their drinking and drug taking, and one person who to this day I have no idea why he might have decided to take his own life. It was only when I sat down to think about this that I realised how many people I have known personally have taken that road, and I know of many others through word of mouth as we all do.

AND, of course we know of many more people who may never consider taking their own lives but who are afflicted with depression. Affliction is the right term as, contrary to those who might like to tell someone to pull themselves together and cop on, it is not something that anyone invites into their lives or wishes upon themselves. No one likes feeling like shit and being miserable all the time, and for some people that is what their lives mostly are like. Even the good times are marred by the cloud that hangs over them and the bad times are made all the worse.
Aware, the voluntary organisation providing support through depression, estimates that somewhere close to 1 in 10 of the population are going through a period of depression at any one time. Given that they are not all lying at home in bed or unable to work or otherwise function underlines the fact that most people who are depressed do in fact keep going, no matter how they are feeling. Like turning out week after week for a team that seems destined never to win anything, there is a quiet heroism in that, even if it does not always feel like that to the people in the middle of it all.
Where there is life there is always still hope. 

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