I felt like I should write something about Jonathan Trott.
George Dobell summed everything up perfectly on Cricinfo – and so really we should all just give the man his privacy and turn to other matters.
But I still wanted to post. To say that I was thankful to be living in a world where a professional athlete can publicly admit to a mental illness, walk it away from it all, and not suffer the slings and arrows of an ignorant populace. That we live in a world where he does not have to feign a phantom physical injury. That we live in a world where, for the most part, everyone around him – fans, media, fellow players, board members – offer their full and public support.
I looked far and wide for criticism of Trott’s decision from a creditable source – and found none. The worst I found was people blaming the Aussies’ sledging – but I think that is more a matter of ignorance about the cause of mental illness, rather than out and out cruelty.
I was blown away by how the whole situation was handled by everyone involved. And I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to World Cricket – and my sincere best wishes to Jonathan Trott.
Unfortunately, however, Trott – and others who have admitted to stress related illnesses and sought help – are the exception to the rule. More often than not, the stigmas surrounding anxiety and depression related illnesses keep people from admitting they are suffering – sometimes with dire consequences.
Trott is a millionaire. And can afford to walk away from his profession until he is healthy enough to return. Most average Joes do not have that luxury. Furthermore, while we can all agree that athletes are under immense amounts of pressure to perform, that does not make it okay for us to forgive their lack of mental fortitude more easily than, say, the mental frailties of someone who picks up trash for a living, or an unemployed teenager, or soldier returning from active duty.
And more: Trott was surrounded by doctors, team psychiatrists, handlers, agents, coaches – people watching his diet, his caloric intake, and consistently monitoring all his vitals such as blood pressure and heart rate and body weight. Any change physically was surely noticed and reported. And he was, thankfully, given plenty of support in his decision to return home. Unfortunately, outside of sport, all too often people with mental illness suffer in silence, or slip through the cracks, or worse.
I say all of this not to blame Jonathan Trott for being a professional athlete. Nor do I say it to imply that his illness is not as serious because of the fact that he plays cricket for a living. Nor do I mean to infer that his decision to walk away was not a brave one – for it was. I say it because we, as a society, have a long way to go toward properly recognizing and treating the mental illnesses of all our citizens. There is a very large and powerful stigma in western society still to this day – despite how far we have come. Over 38,000 Americans committed suicide in 2010 – the equivalent of 100 fully loaded jumbo jets crashing and killing all aboard – and a similarly high number will continue to die every single year until that stigma is gone and programs are in place that help everyone who is sick get the help they need.
The silver lining of the Jonathan Trott situation is that it is forcing people to discuss, read about, and learn about mental illness without there first being a horrible tragedy. These discussions and educations will help erode said stigma – and they might very well save lives.
What I am trying to say is that let us never forget that we as a society have a long way to go toward properly treating mental illness – decisions like Trott’s will help – but there are still many mountains left to climb. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource if you are looking for ways to help. In the meantime, listen to your friends, your loved ones, and encourage them to get help if they need it.
Get well soon, Jonathan. You have reminded us all how frail the human soul can be – even among the strongest of us – and your legacy will be one of bravery and of trail blazing.
May you continue to find peace.
May we all.