Virtual doctor fights England stress
Professional cricketers plagued by stress and anxiety can now call up the help of Dr Freeman: a virtual doctor who can provide relaxation techniques to help them cope with the pressure.
England players have been regularly struck by stress-related illness, most notably Marcus Trescothick, Mike Yardy and Jonathan Trott. Although all three soon returned to county level, Trescothick and Yardy never recovered their England places and Trott's attempts to rebuild his career with England Lions have yet to reach fulfilment.
Dr Freeman, a virtual bearded doctor who lolls in a deckchair under a palm tree on a tiny island, stars in the Stress Free App launched by the Professional Cricketers' Association in association with a team of consultant psychiatrists and game developers. They have worked in partnership with Virtually Free to develop an app which teaches four medically proven relaxation techniques which help reduce stress: calm breathing, meditation, deep muscle relaxation and self-hypnosis.
The app comes with a journal and allows players to set goals to keep stress-related illness at bay as they cope with the perpetual demands of a congested international calendar.
There is a piquancy, whether the developers know it or not, in the Freeman name: George Freeman, regarded by WG Grace as the finest fast bowler he ever faced, was the 19th century forerunner of the fast-bowling greats, a man who could be relied upon to put the batsmen of his era under immense mental and physical strain.
Trescothick, who has continued his career with Somerset and underlined his status as one of the most treasured figures on the county circuit, is actively supporting the development of a supportive culture towards stress-related illness.
"We want to build a culture that acknowledges that it is OK not to be OK," he said. "Our aim is to help our members prevent them when possible or seek help in the early stages if not.
"We all experience stress and anxiety every day but at times this can be so extreme that it becomes an illness. When it gets to that level it can stop us from getting on with our lives or doing the things we love, like playing cricket,
"This app can help de-stress when anxiety is getting on top of us, but they can also help us become more resilient to stress in general. In particular meditation can build our ability to cope with stress.
"Just like we take training our body really seriously, 'Stress Free' encourages us to practice relaxation skills frequently and train your resilience. You cannot focus on your body and forget your mind."
The 'Stress Free' App is the latest initiative from the PCA in putting place measures to help reduce stress-related illnesses.
The Dr Freeman app extends the PCA's work also seen in the Mind Matters tutorial which was launched three years ago and which has had input from a host of former England cricketers troubled by stress-related illness, including Trescothick, Yardy, Tim Ambrose, Graeme Fowler, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.
Recognition that mental illness was often experienced by those with admirable levels of drive and commitment was a vital part of Trescothick's recovery.
That is reflected in the fact that every professional cricketer in England has also been given a copy of Depression - The Curse of the Strong in which Dr Tim Cantopher argues that naturally conscientious people are at greater risk of pushing themselves past breaking point, still seeking high standards when under great stress, where weaker people would simply give up.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps