Following on from my earlier blog post on the Olympics: ‘The last hurdle – exercise’, I’m keeping with the theme of sport. This time it’s cricket, and the alarmingly high rate of mental illnesses and suicide amongst players.
Cricket, like football, is a game that is enjoyed by many across the globe and receives extensive coverage across all media. However, what isn’t publicised quite as much is that the sport has a much darker side.
I’ve never played cricket, but after hearing about a book from David Frith ‘Silence of the Heart: Cricket Suicides’, I was intrigued.
Frith, a leading cricket writer and historian first started collating data of suicides among players over thirty years ago. His account of these deaths, and the factors that led up to the suicides, are detailed in his narrative.
According to Frith, the suicide rate in cricket is higher than in any other sport. His findings show that the suicide rate amongst British cricketers is 1.77 %, whereas the rate among ordinary British men is 1.07 %. Overseas, the figure is much higher with alarming rates of 4.12% (South Africa), 3.92% (New Zealand) and 2.75% (Australia).
Frith’s findings led people to question if cricket attracts vulnerable people or if the game itself is to blame. The author says that the sport must ‘…now answer the very serious question of whether it gradually transforms unwary cricket-loving boys into brooding, insecure and ultimately self-destructive men.‘ However, Frith believes that it is the nature of the sport that puts a strain on the nerves which is ultimately destructive to the players, and not that susceptible people were attracted to the sport.
Another study of Test cricketer suicides by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in 2016, hypothesised that it was the very nature of cricket that predisposed Test cricketers to a much higher rate of suicide. The results from this study found that health, financial and relationship issues were prominent, and that depression and alcohol misuse were common. Further, it showed that most suicides among Test cricketers happened post-retirement when in mid-to-late life, and argued the case for better support to be made available beyond retirement.
Irrespective of the catalyst behind the suicides, there needs to be an open dialogue without fear of judgement for professional cricketers, just as there is for anyone else in our society who suffers from mental illness. Society needs to establish a more level playing field for people from all walks of life, from Joe Public to the more famous sport-stars, and show each and every sufferer that it is okay to talk about their mental illnesses now, before it is too late.