The reaction to Jonathan Trott’s recent revelations as to why he walked out on England’s winter tour of Australia, sparked a fierce and immediate backlash. Labelled amongst other things ‘disrespectful’ and a ‘con-man’, Trott has been vilified by the media in recent days. Such sentiments, though understandable in the light of the information available to us, risk distracting from the more complex issues that this story ought to have brought to the public’s attention.
As someone who has had to deal with a long running battle with depression and mental illness, my initial reaction to Trott’s recent statement mirrored that of former England player Michael Vaughan. The ex captain expressed dismay that the public had been led to believe that Trott had suffered from a long running stress-related condition.
I, like Vaughan, was also deeply troubled to hear Trott talk of mental illness, or at least perceptions of those afflicted by it, using words such as ‘nutcase’ and ‘crazy’. Such language can only promote the misconceptions of mental health issues that society has only recently started to come to terms with. For a professional sportsman to speak in this manner is hugely irresponsible and it is disappointing that an apology has not been forthcoming.
The issue, of course, with the sentiments expressed above is that they, too, do little to further the cause of mental health education. They are troublingly absolutist responses to a situation for which the full facts are not, and may never be, known. Though understandable, they do nothing to emphasise that mental illness is a complex and deeply nuanced subject. The response to Trott’s interview seems to me to be portraying a rather binary understanding of mental illness. Either he had a long-standing condition, or he had none at all.
The truth may be far more complex than that. We may only speculate as to Trott’s true state of mind both when he was in Australia, and indeed now. It is not inconceivable that Trott has in fact suffered from a long-running condition but wishes to conceal it from others. Equally plausible is that whilst not suffering from a specific medical condition the time he left the tour, Trott truly believed he was. It may be that only in hindsight he has come to believe that ‘burnout’ was the true source of his struggle.
It is possible that Trott was indeed, as some have suggested, simply after a way out. It may be that he was suffering from a short-lived period of intense stress. We will never know the advice he took on the statement released when he left the tour. If Trott has not suffered from a long-term condition, then he is deserving of some criticism for claiming otherwise. How much criticism depends on factors unknown, and thus perhaps should be reserved.
Whatever the true facts of the matter, speculation as to Trott’s condition is at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous. Attention should instead focus on the real issue, that of understanding depression, mental illness and workplace stress in the sporting arena.
Mistakes have been made in the handling of this affair by all- Trott, the ECB and the media alike. However, the upshot of the story is that we have been granted the rare opportunity to have a mature and informed discussion about mental health in sport.
Filling the back pages with criticisms of Trott’s character will do nothing to further that cause. With so much at stake, it’s time attention refocused on the bigger issues.