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Harmison faces up to depression

ESPNcricinfo staff

January 12, 2012

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Great mates: Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff savour victory, England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 4th day, August 23, 2009
Steve Harmison admitted to Andrew Flintoff his problems peaked on England's 2004/05 tour of South Africa © Getty Images
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Steve Harmison has become the latest England cricketer to face up to the possibility that he was afflicted by clinical depression during his international career.

In the BBC documentary Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side Of Sport, Harmison admitted a doctor raised the possibility that the bouts of homesickness and anxiety attacks that characterised his career might be extreme enough to be classified as severe depression.

Harmison's problems were most severe during England's 2004-5 tour of South Africa when, by his own estimation "I realised that I had a problem and was going to have to sort it out."

His admission follows Marcus Trescothick's enforced early retirement from international cricket because of mental health issues and Michael Yardy's premature departure from the 2011 World Cup after a lengthy fight with depression.

Andrew Flintoff also speculated depression might have been behind his prolonged drinking bouts as captain of a whitewashed England side during the 2006/7 tour of Australia.

Harmison took only nine wickets at an average of 72 runs during the South Africa tour before recovering the following summer to play a central role alongside Flintoff in England's Ashes success.

"I was the No. 1 bowler in the world at the time and maybe there was a perception that everybody was looking at me thinking we've got to bowl South Africa out," said Harmison. "You have got to take five wickets each time, you have got to do this, you have got to do that, you have got to carry the attack, and here I was struggling inside.

"It never really transformed into something on the field. That was my get-out really - walking over that white line."

Harmison's problems began even before the Test series began, frustrating his coach at the time, Duncan Fletcher, whose relationship with Harmison and Flintoff deteriorated as the years progressed.

"We went into Jo'burg and it was the first time really where I went into a trip where I was having one of these dog days, or episodes, as the doctor said to me afterwards. That was the first time I had gone onto a trip feeling like that.

"I had a bad first week. I couldn't train. I was struggling to breathe, I was hyperventilating and that's when it dawned on me that I had a problem and I was going to have to sort it out.

"I was panicky, the anxiety was hitting me and I had a lump in my throat, I was having bad heads, I was shaking, I didn't want to let go off the ball. There was one night when I went back into my room and looked into the mirror and thought 'what's the problem?' That is when it really dawned on me, 'You have a problem, you're not weak, you are going to have to sort it out.

"That was when depression was first mentioned. I still can't get to the answer of what made me feel that way."

Flintoff told that his lowest moment came in Australia when he broke down and cried in front of his father on Chrisitmas Eve in Melbourne and pronounced himself a failure. England, although aware of his problems, chose not to replace him as captain with Andrew Strauss for the one-day series because Fletcher feared, quite wrongly, a backlash from the media.

"I was at an all-time low personally and professionally even though I was captain of England," Flintoff said. "But I didn't want to get out of bed and I didn't want to face people."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by m0se on (January 13, 2012, 20:40 GMT)

One is more likely to be depressed in a western society than an eastern society or more likely to report that one is depressed in a western society than an eastern society. Take your pick. Either way, former players speaking about depression will help future players cope better.

Posted by vatsap on (January 13, 2012, 18:00 GMT)

Honestly what's with all these English cricketers. Most people suffer some sort of loneliness or homesickness when away from family. I cant imagine how it would have been for cricketers (since we are on the topic) of the 60s & 70s to travel alien lands when communication was what not it is now and people's understanding of different culture was also not that great. Every autobiography has some stuff... which the press magnfies further.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2012, 14:41 GMT)

I think Cloudmess has made a valid point in that cricket is a test of nerve as well as skill. However, what any of this has to do with one or two 'overseas' cricketers playing for England, I don't know. Perhaps its a chance for supporters of teams like India, Pakistan et al to have a whinge after they have been thrashed yet again.

Posted by Iamnotboredofcricket on (January 13, 2012, 13:49 GMT)

"what's with the English cricketers and depression? "

You try living in England. LOL...

Posted by voma on (January 13, 2012, 10:56 GMT)

The most depressing thing was watching Steve Harmisson waste a god given talent . The guy had everything , he could of easily beaten bothams record as Englands highest wicket taker .

Posted by 2929paul on (January 13, 2012, 9:42 GMT)

Everyone here who has posted comments like "man up", "it's an excuse", "what's with these guys" are showing themselves up. It is ignorance of the illness that has stopped people admitting to having depression in the past. Understanding of it and recognising it earlier could help many in extending their careers or improving their quality of life. Who is to say there isn't depression within other cricketing nations which leads to poor performances? British sportsmen are starting to open up about this now as attitudes change and it can only be a good thing. At its worst, depression can lead to people feeling they need to take their own lives. And it has happened within international sport recently.Joke about that if you want.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2012, 6:09 GMT)

whats up with these english cricketers?? DEPRESSION!!!!?????? Is that why they adopted policy of aquiring foreign players so that they can make international tours??

Posted by   on (January 13, 2012, 4:24 GMT)

Good on Harmison for openly admitting it. I see Trescothick, Flintoff and now Harmison had a tough time with this mental illness. Myself I have depression at times. Good on them tellling the cricket world

Posted by Nish8738 on (January 13, 2012, 3:04 GMT)

Andrew senior. the truth is also that they havn't played a test series in india,SL,pakistan in last 3 years. the dubai tour will decide if they deserve to be number one. they were almost beaten by the ICC XI.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2012, 2:57 GMT)

Flintoff should never have been captain for that tour, it was an appallingly stupid management decision when Strauss was clearly (and continues to prove it) the better man. And indeed, the selectors give it all this about rotating the squad etc yet only when it suits them. Harmison's and most certainly Trescothick's careers could have been prolonged if they had been allowed to sit out certain tours. It would have been a great opportunity to blood new players in difficult situations but as usually the horse was pushed until it broke.

Posted by jamin_rvb_fan on (January 13, 2012, 1:37 GMT)

Man UP? who ever heard such a pathetic thing? Depression is normal, Clinical depression is not! what is need is a therapist and/or medication? 1 key symptoms is increasing isolation, and when on tour only team mates the stigma still associate with depression fat_man! ever wondered why it seems to rear its head on tour away from the comfort of things outside cricket? a depressed brain reacts slower over analyses, Instinct & muscle memory drive a good cricketer

Posted by cloudmess on (January 13, 2012, 0:46 GMT)

Mental health issues take many forms. Trescothick's illness was more acute, because it was anxiety-based and far harder to control. I sympathise with Flintoff and Harmison, but then one could guess from their occasional waywardness during their England days that they couldn't always be feeling right in themselves. You think of other players from the past - if Chris Lewis were an English cricketer today, I wouldn't be surprised to see him join this list. Ditto Phil Tufnell. I can think of several others. Even in county cricket - think of Somerset's curious history of depressive openers: Trescothick, Lathwell, Roebuck, Gimblett... perhaps batsmen facing the new ball tend to be more analytical and prone to introspection. Cricket is a test of nerve as much as skill, and some are better than other at tackling the demons.

Posted by mumbaiguy79 on (January 13, 2012, 0:41 GMT)

I can't imagine these guys being in the shoes of Indian cricketers. Guys like Tendulkar, Dhoni, etc. are constantly weighed down by expectations. Never heard any depressions bouts from them!

Not belittling the problems of these guys, but just something to consider.

Posted by random6358 on (January 12, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

Its not only amongst the England players - I can think of Iain O'Brien and Lou Vincent from New Zealand who have come forward as having been sufferers. The fact that it is being recognised and reported is the real change; it is a cultural shift in the attitude towards depression. Openness on this has to be a good thing and to be encouraged. Also, given how critical mental discipline is in this sport I think that reporting on issues such as this is highly relevant to understanding the narrative of cricket.

Posted by 12thman on (January 12, 2012, 23:14 GMT)

They are worried more and more Indians, Pakistani's & South Africans are playing for England.

Posted by xylo on (January 12, 2012, 22:51 GMT)

what's with the English cricketers and depression?

Posted by KingOwl on (January 12, 2012, 22:32 GMT)

BTW folks, I made a bit of fun here too earlier. But let's stop talking about manning up, having guts, etc. Depression has got nothing to do with manliness or guts or anything of the sort. It is an illness.

Posted by KingOwl on (January 12, 2012, 22:28 GMT)

This explains everything. I always wondered about THAT wide ball!

Posted by   on (January 12, 2012, 22:04 GMT)

Makes me laugh how bitter ppl are towards to the England team. The reason is that they are the best team in the world. They havent lost a test series in 3 years and they are ranked number 1 in the world.

Posted by   on (January 12, 2012, 21:17 GMT)

in response to Sameh Khan's comment, it's not just England players that suffer from depression. Lou Vincent, the New Zealand batsmen, would almost certainly have had a longer and more successful test and ODI career but for his struggle with depression, which ultimately saw him make a very poor career move and sign up for the ICL more or less just to get away from the NZ dressing room. I know this is only one example compared to at least 3 from England, but perhaps players feel more confident to come out and talk about it once someone else already has. Given depression is a medical issue and not simply a matter of feeling a bit down, I'd think it's likely there are many more players in cricket who suffer from it but don't talk about it, instead just fading away quietly as their on field performance inevitably suffers.

Posted by   on (January 12, 2012, 21:01 GMT)

The English weather is depressing in itself. The sun is in and out and people don't get enough sunlight that makes Vitamin D. When put under stressful situations, the issues surface.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (January 12, 2012, 20:56 GMT)

I wouldn't wish to make light of Harmison's admission that he suffered from depression whilst he was away from home. Certainly, it was obvious from the majority of his performances that he was no happy bunny esp. during the disastrous Ashes tour '06/07, but every cricketer that goes public with that admission owes it to Marcus Trescothick who broke the silence over this taboo topic first. It has become progressively easier for others: first Yardy, then Flintoff and now Harmison, to present their problems publicly because of him. God knows how cricketers who literally sailed off on marathon tours in days of yore managed to keep themselves together; it beggars imagination! Were they made of different stuff? Not sterner, just different. What's to be done? Well, Boards like the ECB need to know about these players before tour selection. This means that anyone who has qualms about being away must say so immediately. Undertake to give your all, or don't go; it's only fair on all concerned.

Posted by FAT_MAN on (January 12, 2012, 19:13 GMT)

One peice of advice for English cricketers: MAN UP ALREADY, YOU'RE TOO SOFT! Half the team are from SA and the other half are depressed????

Anyway, on a serious note, I always thought the selectors missed a trick with Harmisson. Everyone knew he was a reluctant (no - terrible) tourist. Why didnt they just use him in England and on short tours according to his preference. I think he was god enough to be given that leeway?

Posted by   on (January 12, 2012, 18:18 GMT)

Why is it only British players admitting to this? Either it's something wrong with the way the English management works, or other countries just don't understand when to get treatment for these problems.

Posted by   on (January 12, 2012, 17:24 GMT)

This makes me worried about Team India that we have the same coach - Duncan Fletcher who does not know how to deal with these issues of players. May be thats why Team India looks so dejected and disappointed in the field. Also, we have performed very poorly since he has taken over. This should ring a bell somewhere.

Posted by KingOwl on (January 12, 2012, 16:50 GMT)

I know this is no joking matter. But what is wrong with English cricketers? Every week or two, we are told that yet another English cricketer is depressed!

Posted by tanstell87 on (January 12, 2012, 14:11 GMT)

wow....i would like people to see this & then comment on Sachin Tendulkar....he has been carrying India's hopes for 23 years....& Harmison could not handle the pressure of everyone looking upto him for 5wkt hauls as he was number 1 ranked bowler...although England won that series in South Africa 2-1 & became only 2nd team to beat South Africa in South Africa since re-admission...

Posted by 200ondebut on (January 12, 2012, 13:35 GMT)

Hmmmm - just seems a bit of an excuse for some pretty lame performances. Other than Tresco - it s a bit like "I've played crap - oh I must have had depression". Everyone could see that Harmy had the heart of a mouse - my view is that this is what used to be called "bottle" - or in this case lack of it. Harmy should have been one of the all time greats.

Posted by leftarmtweaker on (January 12, 2012, 13:24 GMT)

Wow. I know cricket is taken seriously by professional's, but this is a joke. If every cricketer in thirty years time is going to have depression, they'd be going to mental hospitals than hotels.... :/

Posted by Tom_Bowler on (January 12, 2012, 13:24 GMT)

I frequently suffered from depression after watching Steve Harmison sulkily insist he was a match winner with nothing to prove after yet another woeful, weak kneed performance. A potentially great fast bowler who shamelessly wasted his talent.

Posted by nzcricket174 on (January 12, 2012, 13:18 GMT)

Wide he have depression.

Posted by Slysta on (January 12, 2012, 13:14 GMT)

I really don't want to make light of this serious topic and the mental anguish experienced by these guys... but I'm gunna do it anyway. Playing Test cricket for England would traditionally be enough to depress anybody, I reckon.

Posted by sa.bo on (January 12, 2012, 12:47 GMT)

those are some honest words! honesty and openness really help make life easier for those with mental health problems... Next on my Agenda: Going to watch the documentary: Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side Of Sport, right after posting this comment.. don't know how i missed that!

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