Joe Root: Ben Stokes' honesty about mental health epitomises leadership qualities

Team-mate hopes his example can encourage others to seek help when they need it

Joe Root has praised the honesty of Ben Stokes for talking about his struggles with anxiety and believes the England captain's openness on the subject will continue the progress made against the stigma of mental health.
Speaking in his new documentary film, "Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes", the 31-year-old has opened up about the battles endured, including a series of panic attacks stemming from a build-up of personal trauma over the previous few years. That came to a head in 2021, when Stokes took a break midway through the summer for his well-being having struggled to come to terms with his father's passing the year before, during which period he contemplated walking away from the game entirely.
The allrounder was keen to talk on all matters, good and bad, without sugarcoating. As such, he ends up speaking extensively on working through his issues initially, and the constant management of his anxiety through medication and professional help.
Root, who features in the film, watched it for the first at the premiere on Monday in London, along with the rest of the England squad, who then arrived in Manchester on Tuesday morning ahead of the second Test against South Africa, which begins here on Thursday.. While he admits it was a tough watch, Root envisages many who watch the film, whether into cricket or otherwise, will leave with a greater sense of the man and a reaffirmation of the importance of asking those close to you how they are.
"I think it's exactly what you've come to see from Ben as a leader," Root said at Emirates Old Trafford, where England will look to square the three-match series. "How honest he is, what he expects of everyone else is stuff he would be willing to do himself. I think it shows great courage, great bravery to come out and speak openly about that stuff and some of the struggles he has personally been through. We were all there with him going through it, it's not easy to see a close friend and team-mate like that but look at him now. It's great to have him leading this team and making Test cricket so enjoyable to play and to watch.
"I think with any of your mates you want to get around them, make sure you do what you can to help. That goes within the dressing room environment and away from the game as well. You just want to do what you can to help out.
"It's quite powerful for people to see. Sometimes it's okay not to be okay, to ask for help is perfectly alright and a brave thing to do. For someone like Ben to do that - hopefully if there are people out there struggling or finding things difficult, they can gain the courage to ask for that help."
Root also revealed he knew of the possibility Stokes was considering leaving the game. During Stokes' time away, Root was one of the few people in the England dressing room still in regular contact. As captain, he had been shorn of his right-hand man for the series against India, before being bolstered by his return for the Ashes that winter. A 4-0 defeat to Australia, then a 1-0 loss in the Caribbean was ultimately Root's lot, before Stokes took over in May.
"There were discussions at different points, but they are things should be kept between the two of us," he said. "It's been very powerful watching that documentary - you forget how much he has been through in such a short space of time. It's very brave to lay himself as bare as he has done. It's very powerful for anyone watching, to see someone who at times looks superhuman and can do things that other players can't do - it shows great leadership to put yourself out there and express some of the difficulties he's had to go through."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo