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Dom Bess: 'It's okay to struggle as a youngster, and it's okay to ask for help'

England offspinner attributes Test return to talking about depression

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
You're 22 years old and you've already played two Tests for England but you're sitting in your county changing rooms, having been dismissed cheaply at the business end of the Championship season. How do you tell your team-mates that you don't care how you got out, you're not bothered about the match, that this flood of tears is way, way more than frustration at losing your wicket?
Dom Bess knows, you just say it.
"Talking was absolutely gold," Bess says. "This stigma of men being not allowed to say anything and not allowed to show their feelings is a load of absolute rubbish."
Since that day at Taunton last September, Bess has played two more Tests, snaring a five-for with his offspin against South Africa to help England to victory at Port Elizabeth. He was set to feature heavily on Sri Lanka's spin-friendly pitches when England's squad headed home amid the coronavirus outbreak in mid-March, just days before their two-Test series was due to start in Galle.
Bess also, very recently, opened up about his battle with depression.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Bess downplays his inner strength at being able to ask for help and instead recognises others, like Somerset team-mates Marcus Trescothick and Steven Davies, for paving the way for the next generation to talk about what they're going through.
"It is okay to struggle if you're a youngster and it's okay to actually ask for help within that environment because I tell you now, I bet all your team-mates will get an arm around you and make sure you're okay and in the dark times pull you through that," Bess says.
"If it's not your team-mates, your mates outside of school, things like that. I just want to get it out there and make sure that people don't think they're alone because they're certainly not."
That day last year while waiting to bat against Yorkshire, Bess was speaking to the team psychologist when he broke down.
"When I finally got it out, it was just like, I want people to know because I can't be dealing with this, like this, because otherwise it could put me in a place where I never want to revisit - a very, very dangerous place"
Dom Bess
Dropped after those first two Tests in 2018 - he made fifty on debut against Pakistan at Lord's followed by 49 and 3 for 33 at Headingley - Bess returned to Somerset, where he failed to secure a place in the first team and ended up on loan at Yorkshire for two seasons running. Just a handful of matches into his return to Somerset in 2019, it all got on top of him.
He still managed to go out and bat, but after he drove Keshav Maharaj straight to cover for 15, the emotions flowed out again. The following morning, Bess spoke to the team doctor and head coach Jason Kerr told the playing group that their team-mate was struggling with what turned out to be depression.
"I was nervous to start with," Bess says of his team knowing. "I'd been away on loan so naturally I hadn't been around the side for a little bit. I didn't feel like I'd been around the squad a lot so I didn't really want to say it to anyone and then it got to a point where I couldn't handle it any more.
"When I finally got it out, it was just like, I want people to know because I can't be dealing with this, like this, because otherwise it could put me in a place where I never want to revisit - a very, very dangerous place."
Bess had been there before, at school. He says it feels like falling "down a spiral of stairs and I can't get back up".
Suffering from dyslexia, Bess found school "hell" at times and the pressure of his academic difficulties first came to a head there.
"I always hated reading in front of my school mates, I sort of froze," he says. "I sweat now thinking about it, the fear and what it put me through, the fact that kids were laughing at me and that fear of what other people thought, I really struggled with that. That was something I never really nipped in the bud.
"When I was at school I was always under this pressure. It certainly got to a point where I'd never go again and certainly the lowest I've ever been, a very dangerous place, for sure. I'm very lucky to get out of that situation."
Bess is grateful that one of his teachers helped him through that time and he admits he was similarly lucky when his mental health took another downwards turn during his fledgling cricket career.
Trescothick and Davies, who have both spoken openly about their own mental health, have been a huge help to Bess, and the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) put him in touch with a psychologist, which he says has been invaluable. Bess acknowledges how fortunate he is to have those resources available but most important, he says, is talking to someone.
"Having that stigma that you can't talk and you've just got to get on with it, is a very dangerous way," Bess says. "That's something I've learned and that's also my biggest challenge because I do like to just suck it up and get on with it but I know that isn't the best for me in the long term. I'll struggle with it and then it will build up over a longer period of time ... it is really important to speak.
"What I went through, going to South Africa, performing well, getting back in within the squad, there was a reason why that happened and that was because I opened up to my team-mates in September when I was really struggling."