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Discussions on mental health needs destigmatization in society – CA Sports Science Chief

Discussions on mental health needs destigmatization in society – CA Sports Science Chief

Three Australian cricketers – Glenn Maxwell, Nic Maddison, and Will Pucovski recently came to the fore to open up about their struggles with mental health and decided to take breaks from the sport in order to address more important concerns. Australia’s women cricketers have also joined them in this with Nicole Bolton and Moises Henriques opening about the challenges and difficulties of dealing with mental health problems.

Cricket Australia’s sports science chief Alex Kountouris praised the players for opening up about their experiences, and also noted that they were true role models. “We genuinely think they are the real models,” Kountouris told cricket.com.au. “I know we often portray sports people as role models for the way they perform on the field, but these three players – and the players before them, male and female – who have come out and spoken about it, I think we should be holding them up as role models.

“It’s what society needs, to talk openly about it and break down some of the stigma associated with it. Hopefully, it helps people in the wider community, particularly younger people, who are experiencing troubles to go out and talk about it. With the data that we’ve got, we’re seeing that our players are no less or more vulnerable than anyone else in society. We’re not calling it anything other than what it is – a part of life – and we’ve got to find ways to be preventative and manage it when it happens. It’s something we’ve been conscious of for a long time,” he added.

Since the tragic death of Phil Hughes in 2014, CA has formed a partnership with the Melbourne-based mental health research group to get insights on stresses and problems faced by the country’s cricketers. In a collaboration with the Australian Cricketers’ Association, a detailed survey was conducted by state-contracted players. The data assembled gave a “snapshot” of mental health challenges. And that was followed by a couple more similar surveys.

“The purpose of the survey is to give us a snapshot of mental health and well-being within our playing group and to see how we’re tracking compared to a couple of years ago. And you get a bit of a comparison to population norms as well, for similar ages.
“What we’ve seen basically is that our players mirror the age-match population, meaning they experience similar rates of mental health and wellbeing issues as others of the same age in the broader community. There are undoubtedly elements that make them more or less vulnerable because they are athletes, but there are also commonalities in the pressures of life that none of us are immune to.

“It might be relationship issues, and maybe there’s greater financial stresses or job dissatisfaction among people who aren’t elite sportsmen and women. Everyone’s got different triggers, and what’s stressful for one person might not be stressful for someone else. Of course, there is the pressure that comes from the scrutiny of athletes’ performance, from social media – all those things can’t be ignored,” he said.

“I think what’s changed is that people are talking about it, more openly and honestly. There might be more scrutiny now, it’s very hard to know exactly because it’s difficult to keep stats on these indicators and data from twenty years ago is probably not going to be very accurate anyway.

“But what has improved is players’ acceptance to talk about it, and to be open and honest about it. If they’re struggling, they ask for help and then often make that public – that’s what’s changed,” he added.

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