Geoffrey Boycott’s comments concerning Michael Yardy, the England cricketer who withdrew from the World Cup with depression have highlighted a lack of understanding in our society around depression.

Some mental health professionals have tried to highlight the severity of depression by comparing it to a broken leg (after all, it has physical components, as Michael Vaughan pointed out). But the problem is, depression’s really not like a broken leg at all. It comes and goes, with no official end point in sight, and it doesn’t always have an obvious trigger – yes the international cricket schedule is frantic but that might not be a trigger for Yardy.  Most crucially, you can “see” a broken leg, at least on an X-ray or medical diagram.

Whether he believed it or not, Boycott was acknowledging a sad truth here – that depression is an illness that is extremely difficult to empathise with.  You can receive sympathy and love from friends and family, but it can often feel like no one properly understands what happens.  Boycott wondered if Yardy’s depression was caused by his criticism?  Had he made Yardy “upset” (because that’s all depression is)?  Was Yardy’s head “in a mess” like when Boycott himself went to Australia and played “like a lemming”?  Alastair Campbell explained it best:

But how would he [Boycott] have felt if I had suggested to him that his cancer had resulted from poor performance as a sportsman or sports commentator? He’d have been non-plussed I expect. Yet that is what he is saying of Yardy, that poor form and criticism by his betters had made him depressed. I’m afraid that is not how it works. For Mike Yardy to have taken the decision he has, he must be seriously depressed, and the chances are that would have happened supposing he had taken a double hat-trick last time out. For depressives, depression just is, the same as for cancer sufferers, cancer just is, and if you catch a cold, you just do.

None of this is to fully excuse what Boycott said – when you’re paid to commentate on sport for the BBC you should know when to speak your mind and when not to.  But Boycott’s opinions are not confined to him, and serve only to highlight a wider failure of the public to understand mental health problems.  It’s more important to address the bigger issue than to slam the comments of a man who at least admits he wasn’t qualified to talk on the subject.

Married to the amazing Sarah and raising Jakey, Daniel, Amelia, Josh & Jonah in our blended family. Passionate for Jesus, social work & sport.

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