Congratulations to Freddie Flintoff and the BBC for last night’s documentary on depression in sport. Sport plays such a central part in so many lives, and I have no doubt that the collection of sportsmen gathered by Freddie to talk about their own mental health problems will do a lot of good in advancing change and understanding. Every single one of them would be a great addition to the roster of Time to Change ambassadors.
Perhaps the most surreal scene was of Freddie and ‘hardman’ Vinnie Jones swapping notes on how their team-mates would have reacted to being told of their depression. Both pointed out that times have changed, but there is still insufficient understanding of depression as an illness. I liked Freddie’s description of it as ‘a psychological injury,’ and I found the interplay between him and Steve Harmison, who clearly gets it badly, really moving.
Anyway, many thanks from Time to Change and anyone with an interest in changing attitudes on mental illness to Freddie, Steve, Vinnie, Graham Dott, Matthew Syed, Barry McGuigan, Neil Fairbrother, Ricky Hatton and Neil Lennon. Lennon, once a player and now manager with Celtic, spoke with a lot of power and set an example to other employers in saying his door was always open to young players who wanted to open up about psychological struggle.
What with Freddie’s film and today’s report from the Children’s Society on children’s happiness, today is a good day to publish my ebook, The Happy Depressive. I do have a section on sport, where I manage to weave in my daily mention of having played with Diego Maradona, and more seriously reflect a little on the suicides of Robert Enke and Gary Speed, as well as the incredible good sport can do for mental health.
The Times has a piece on the ebook today, leading their story on my call for more MPs to be open about their depression. Put like that, it risks coming over harshly, which I don’t intend it to. But I am in no doubt that having more and more people talk openly about their mental health, as the sportsmen did last night, will be of benefit to the people concerned, and to society as a whole.
One of the points I make in The Happy Depressive is that at a time NHS spending is under pressure, mental health services tend to go to the back of the queue for spending. it is happening already. That is why mental illness needs ambassadors inside and outside Parliament who will bring these issues more into the open, and fight for the support they need.
Some attention has been paid to the fact that I am not my usual tribal anti-Tory self in the way I write about David Cameron in The Happy Depressive. That is because I do think it is a good idea to put happiness and well-being at the heart of policymaking. What is important is that he is now held to that commitment. And the more there are of us to do it, the better it will be.
If he doesn’t deliver, we can always set Feeddie and Vinnie and Ricky on him. That’ll learn him.