Dave's Progress. Chapter 118: Real Men don't get Depression.

A short while ago, ex-England and Yorkshire cricketer Geoff Boycott criticised the England all-rounder Michael Yardy for flying home from Sri Lanka as a result of depression. Boycott, the 108-Test veteran, is reported to have said: "He must have been reading my comments about his bowling. That must have upset him as it's obviously too much for him. He's not good enough at this level." When told that Yardy had quit due to illness, not loss of form, Boycott went on to remark: "I've always got picked, played good, so I've not been in the position where my quality of play has been poor and it's got to me mind-wise."
Various mental health charities were, understandably, outraged by Boycott's remarks and Sane's Marjorie Wallace said: "It is wrong and old-fashioned to regard depression as a form of weakness, or a disguise for a lack of achievement. It takes courage to speak out as Michael has done."
Indeed, Boycott's remarks, however ignorant and unpleasant, do seem indicative of a general feeling that some forms of mental illness, particularly depression, are signs of weakness or failure. I remember when I was first ill and friends seemed to see my burgeoning illness in this way, as a sign of apparent failure, and one even remarked that I had become, to use his words, "a real loser". Later, another "friend" seemed to use my apparent downfall as a way of asserting himself, saying that he "could cope with pressure", while I, obviously, could not.
This sort of misunderstanding would appear to be most prevalent among men, and is possibly even worse within the competitive environment of sport. The overall cultural expectation that men should be strong, not just physically, but emotionally too, perhaps adds to the already existing burden of being depressed. So, instead of feeling that one is simply ill, this often gets confused with feelings of failure, incompetence or weakness. And, of course, remarks like those made by Mr.Boycott do not help.
Later, admittedly, Boycott appeared to make a retraction of sorts, saying that, "until you've had depression, I don't think you're qualified to talk about it." So, perhaps Geoff should follow his own advice and just be quiet about the whole thing.
However, this still doesn't take away our cultural notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man. One would have thought that post-feminism, us males would finally accept our emotional, more sensitive sides, but it still appears that we are much less likely to ask for help when illnesses like depression strike, and perhaps this is born of the fear of being perceived as some kind of failure. In fact, you could almost say that, in our culture, it is still the case that "real men don't get depression". 
As for myself, I feel I've had to re-evaluate all such notions of being strong and competitive, and ironically I feel it was only when I put aside such notions and was no longer bothered by them that I perhaps retrieved some of my previous ability to cope. But, I do know what it is like to be on the receiving end of comments like Boycott's and, to me, they only compound feelings of inadequacy that sometimes illnesses like depression can engender.
So, perhaps the "real man" in this case was, in fact, Michael Yardy himself, who remarked, upon flying back home from Sri Lanka, that: "I felt it was the only sensible option and I wanted to be honest about the reason". Perhaps he is the one who has shown the real courage in this situation, ultimately revealing Boycott's sneering machismo for what it was.   


bazza said…
Hello David. I was watching one of the early episodes of The Sopranos last week. They are being shown on Sky Atlantic, the new channel.
Tony Soprano the mafioso is talking to his shrink and saying that if word got out that he was seeking help for a mental condition he would be "finished"; he meant deposed and bumped off. In an arena of so-called real men it is seen as a sign of weakness.
Geoff Boycott is merely ignorant and egotistic. He is no worse than many others, regretably.
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Dear bazza,
It does seem that amongst men in particular, depression, or perhaps any mental illness, is seen as a sign of weakness. As you point out, with your reference to "The Sopranos", it seems particularly bad in "macho" cultures. So Boycott was probably just voicing a widely held belief. But that doesn't make it right, either.
Anyway, thanks for your comments, bazza. They are always welcome.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Sorry for such tardiness in my comment on this posting. I'm rather frazzled from setting up that awards blog that you were a most notable recipient of. And thus, exhausted, yet determined, at three in the morning, I submit my comment.
Ah yes, Geoffrey Boycott. I was hoping that sort of attitude went away with the 'dinosaurs'. That 'when I were a lad..' and 'big boys don't cry', tough guy mentality he endeavours to portray.
Indeed, I wholeheartedly agree with you. For admission of having concerns about one's mental health well being, shows a 'real man' open and sincere enough to admit he is struggling and thus needs time to come to terms with his mental health needs and hopefully finds the resources to help him feel better. Me thinks that Mr. Boycott is rather insecure and hides behind the mask created by his superficial 'macho man' persona.
Talk to you soon, my friend.
With respect and good wishes, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Couldn't have said it better myself. Or perhaps I did.
From your ever modest pal and with Very Best Wishes,

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