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Sporting Highs and Lows - Episode Five with Marcus Trescothick

In the fifth episode of our mental health podcast, Sporting Highs and Lows, ex-Somerset and England cricketer Marcus Trescothick joins our host and childhood friend, Luke Sutton. He talked about his own ongoing mental health challenges, which brought his England career to end as he struggled to cope with depression and anxiety. Luke says that he was ‘blown away’ by Marcus’s 2008 autobiography, Coming Back to Me, which changed the conversation around mental health in cricket. Our therapy services manager at North London Priory Hospital, Simon Wilson, also joined the conversation.

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“I think I'd suffered for a number of years”

Marcus noticed that he was struggling while away in India for a test match. Self-isolating in his hotel rooms as he struggled with illness he didn’t want to pass onto his teammates, he was struggling with sleep. As he struggled to sleep while feeling poorly, Marcus’s anxiety increased, which only worsened his sleep deprivation and became a vicious cycle. He felt that he was losing control of his body and thoughts, which created fear around what was happening to him.

Marcus knew he wasn’t happy but also felt completely unable to deal with the situation, as he felt there was far less understanding about mental health back then. He thinks that the way society now deals with it is much-improved, with more openness and acceptance around these issues.

Simon said that this idea of needing emotional resilience to succeed is the very thing that can be the downfall of high-performing people. Top-flight athletes often end up reaching a tipping point, where their body is unable to keep pushing them so hard and their resilience to pressure runs out. He points out that the expectation of hiding weakness is even more common in men; even more so in sportsmen who are supposed to be exceptional and tough in many ways.

“I think that sort of frailty within me was always there”

Marcus said he had anxious thoughts for a long time, from childhood, but he had managed them alone to a point where he couldn’t do it for any longer. He points out that anxiety and depression is talked about like ‘the curse of the strong’, which he identifies with as he just kept taking on too much.

Marcus always found mornings difficult to deal with, as he would experience disturbed sleep and wake up anxious, gradually feeling ‘relatively normal’ by the evening. He would put this down to homesickness, which he struggled with as a child on trips away from home. According to Simon, research suggests that mental health conditions usually arise from a combination of life experiences and genetic predisposition, such as a family history of anxiety. Sometimes these predispositions may not come to the fore until difficult life events bring them out.

Luke mentioned how there have been a disproportionate number of cricketers who have come out about mental health issues, compared with other sports. He wonders whether cricket leaves people more susceptible to these issues as it’s a longer, slower, analytical game than, for example, football. Marcus agrees that there are a number of cricketers struggling but perhaps they’re just talking about it more, although he says that playing for three or four days and not getting a result can certainly cause a lot of frustration.

“The emotional side of it suddenly kicks in and it just grows and grows and grows and grows”

Marcus returned to international cricket after writing his pivotal autobiography, when he had a better understanding of how it might affect him. Even after he had learned so much about depression and anxiety, managing his symptoms much more openly, he found that dealing with mental health was still an ongoing process.

In order to deal with the ‘pressure cooker’ of being back with the England team, travelling away from home and the emotional toll of jet lag (particularly in Australia), Marcus came to realise that medication was a key part of keeping his symptoms under control. He found that medication helped him to rationalise all his thoughts, feelings and emotions, so that he could calm his mind and find enjoyment in the sport that he loved.

Simon talked about how many people fear the stigma of receiving a mental health diagnosis and, along with that, the label of someone who is unwell, along with the idea of having to take medication. However, it is important to know that medication, talking therapies, or a mixture of both can be highly helpful in moving forward from difficult mental health symptoms.

Marcus says that he didn’t rush into medication, but has tried an array of different approaches to tackling his mental health. These include therapy, mindfulness, and yoga; however, after eventually trying medication he now feels that is the one thing he can rely on, and that he will continue to do so for the rest of his life. He says he has experienced the lows that come with avoiding taking medication; he never wants to return to that.

“It becomes an easier topic for people to talk about”

Marcus says that, since going public with his own battles, he has people making contact with him to open up about their mental health challenges. He says that people almost seek each other out when they know they have that common theme to talk about, which he finds really interesting to discuss. He knows how often people can bottle these feelings up, as he has had various players on his own team surprise him by opening up and telling him they struggled too, after playing together for years.

Luke believes he can see certain traits in other people that imply they’re in a bad place. He worries that those who haven’t yet recognised their own suffering, particularly in cricket, will be pushed to a point where ‘something will crack’ and they won’t understand what’s happening. He thinks that many people will live with these issues, such as addiction as well as mental health conditions, who will never confront them and just continue trying to function.

Simon says that some people may well do this by using their own coping strategies and make people believe they’re doing okay. He treats some patients later on in their life, who have been managing for twenty or thirty years, hiding their challenges well from everyone. Simon says that he tells these people to imagine how much they could achieve if they weren’t having to use so much strength managing their conditions in silence.

Marcus talks about how the ‘cricketing fraternity’ is in a good place, as the Professional Cricketers Association union has created platforms that make it easier for players to get help. He thinks other sports such as football, rugby, boxing and athletics still have a long way to go, as they don’t yet have the same support systems in place.

Mental health treatment

If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s so important to tell someone how you’re feeling. At Priory, we’ve provided professional mental health support to many other people in your situation, so you can rest assured that we can help you to get better.

Our experienced specialists can help you to gain a better understanding of what you’re going through, teaching you the skills to manage your symptoms and achieve ongoing recovery. Contact us today for a free no-obligation assessment, so that we can recommend the best course of action for you to achieve the future you’ve dreamed of.

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