This morning I spotted a tweet praising this article in the Daily Mail. Whilst it makes some interesting points about the gruesome nature of suicide, its main point is that suicides of famous people act as a spur for others to do the same and, in doing so, they join a group of essentially selfish people. And in making this case it employs academic studies (somewhat ironically for the Daily Mail) which are as far removed from the actual feelings of those involved as they can be. Speaking from the perspective as a trained researcher and academic, these studies are unlikely to tap into real emotions felt by people. In their search for generalisable conclusions they miss the unique nature of each individuals case. More so, research subjects rarely speak that openly and honestly about the non-personal issues which affect their lives, let alone emotions so provide only partial insight of the veneer. We say what we think others want to hear. And perhaps these fuel the behaviours they claim to dissect and understand.
I actually feel insulted by this article. As someone who once had these feelings, I can say with all honesty that I was not inspired by anybody else. I felt selfish in having these thoughts and about the consequences of that course of action. Martin Samuel would do well to refocus on his opening paragraph and in particular these lines:
More worrying are those that have not; those nobody knows about, that are alone in tackling depression, or addiction, or feelings of helplessness. The section of the community who see Speed’s end not as tragedy, but grim inspiration.
We know from a range of real, anecdotal evidence that this exists yet we perpetuate in creating environments in which these feelings are incubated and grow. His article is unlikely to inspire many of them to speak out and discuss their thoughts, fears and psychological demons. Whilst Gary Speed’s death is still to raw to analyse with any objectivity the other cases that Samuel highlights surely indicate to the academic and layman alike that there is a trend here which needs to be better understood if the root causes are to be addresses and the deaths prevented. I would expect more from the Sports Journalist of the Year if journalism isn’t being proved to be so toxic itself. I’m sure there’s an academic paper in that but for the time being read it for yourself and make up your own mind.
This time two years ago I was sat at home, signed off work with “moderate” depression feeling unable to do very much at all. One November morning I remember waking up to the radio and the news that the German international goalkeeper Robert Enke had died having stood in front of a train. Whilst other world news was passing me by, this story really struck home. Here was someone at the peak of their career, comfortably well off and seemingly not wanting for anything. The media asked the question: why would he do something seemingly so silly, so stupid?
Yesterday, the news emerged that Wales football manager Gary Speed had died. He was found at home and had apparently hung himself. Again, the media seemed puzzled by events. Speed had finished a celebrated playing career and in his short tenure as Welsh manager seemingly turned around the fortunes of the team. He was married, with 2 sons and lived in a large country house. Many reports refered to his appearance on Saturday’s Football Focus programme and seeming to be in good spirits. Robbie Savage referred to Speed’s appearance at Strictly Come Dancing and his happiness at being there. Again the questions came about why a person with so much took the decision to end it all.
It would be wrong cast further speculation on yesterday’s news. However, Enke’s story is very insightful. Despite the outward appearance of success and its trappings, Enke was suffering his own inner turmoil. He had suffered from depression for some time. As a professional footballer he had to deal with taunts from fans, both the opposition and his own – a criticism which we expect “professionals” to handle. Three years prior to his death, Enke and his wife had to deal with the death of their daughter from a congenital heart defect – perhaps fuelling feels of failure on his part? Enke didn’t talk about his mental health. He feared that being honest would lead to his adopted daughter being taken away. For a man who to the onlooker had everything, fearing the loss of the things that mattered most, the non-material parts of life, was the final straw. In the weeks leading up to his suicide he had kept his real feelings hidden so he could go through with the plans. He seemed to wear a mask up until the end, the modern way we are expected to deal with our problems.
The masks we wear are the modern disease: outwardly successful and secure but inwardly insecure and vulnerable. In the machismo world of football the pressure not to reveal these feelings is immense and it takes a tragic event like Enke’s for the walls to be lowered but still they remain. When the media still wonders why people who seemingly have everything do “stupid” and “silly” things in taking or attempting to take their own lives its is clear that the walls remain. Once again, sport is merely a lens for wider society. As the incidence of depression and mental health stresses increase through the pressures of life today, so it is becoming the “modern” disease and a symbol of our “progress”. Only progress would mean losing the stiff upper lip. It really is time for change before this silent killer does more damage.