Depression in football is a topic that's not talked about enough and many footballers are scared to admit that they suffer from depression, this was the view held by the majority of the panellists who attended a panel discussion on depression in football last week.
The recent surge in awareness of one of the most treatable mental illnesses comes in the wake of former Bafana Bafana star Delron Buckley’s revelation that he contemplated suicide due to depression during his time in Europe.
During the panel discussion, which was attended by former and current South African football players such as Buckley himself, Shaun Bartlett, Stanton Fredericks and Marc van Heerden, as well as professionals from the medical fraternity, it was confirmed that depression is very much a reality in modern day football and South African football is no exception.
Last week, Goal spoke to renowned Sports Doctor Dr Lervasen Pillay, who shared his thoughts on the matter and this week, we caught up with life coach Myan Subrayan to offer further insight and solutions.
Subrayan is not only an outspoken advocate in the fight against depression, but he is also Buckley’s personal life coach, as well as someone who has worked with several other elite athletes.
Firstly, it’s important to understand the role of a life coach, and Subrayan offered a distinct answer.
“It is someone who advises and encourages clients on matters having to do with career or personal challenges,” Subrayan told Goal.
“It addresses specific personal goals, business successes, in the client's personal life, relationships or profession by examining what is going on right now, discovering what your obstacles or challenges might be, and choosing a course of action to make your life be what you want it to be,” he said.
Subrayan also shared his thoughts on how life coaches could help fight depression.
“To answer this we need to look at what is depression,” Subrayan said.
“It’s a mental condition characterised by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep. So, as a life coach, my role is basically the opposite to what happens with depression. I am there to motivate and to get the client to gain value and help them find their meaning and purpose for life,” Subrayan continued.
“To overcome depression it is important to get the athlete to value themselves and appreciate all that they have achieved thus far. Also, it is important to help them build a life outside of sport, because let’s face it, athletes' careers are finite and will come to an end. So, for me it’s important to assist them to plan for life after sport and beyond,” Subrayan added.
Although, there are many factors that contribute to depression, for footballers, the highly pressurised environment has created for a somewhat toxic environment which many of the players at the event had alluded to.
Most notably, Buckley and Fredericks spoke about the uncertainty that they felt towards the end of their respective careers, and Subrayan believes it’s that kind of pressure and uncertainty which leaves professional athletes vulnerable to depression.
“Not just footballers but all pro athletes. because they are in a pressurised environment where there is a lot of uncertainty. It is sadly a haven for depression,” Subrayan stated.
“Athletes have a lot of uncertainty around their contracts, whether they are going to get selected and play, then there are injuries, financial pressure and pressure from coaches, management, fans and even pressure from family," he said.
However, Subrayan maintains that also having a strong support system can be beneficial in curbing depression.
“Having a strong support network is important so that you don't feel isolated and alone and you have people you can talk to about your feelings and challenges. This is important,” Subrayan said.
During Buckley’s time at Borussia Dortmund, he underwent considerable criticism and unfortunately did not have the support staff many elite clubs have today, and when Subrayan was asked what he would have done to help the former winger, he stated the importance of reflecting on past success.
“To get him to reflect on all his past successes that had got him to where he was at Dortmund, and to build his self-esteem up and his self confidence that would have been my priority,” Subrayan said.
Lastly, Subrayan stated that having a strong mindset is not always the solution to preventing depression.
“I know a lot of strong minded people that have suffered from depression. The typical ‘Type A’ person is a strong candidate for depression because they are the drivers that are always pushing themselves and sadly at the expense of taking time off and having that balance to recharge in order to take charge,” Subrayan concluded.