Hugh McGahan: Admission of problem big step for Smith

5:00AM Sunday Apr 20, 2008
By Hugh McGahan


Considering his recent track record, I was extremely pleased to see that Parramatta's Tim Smith is stepping away from playing indefinitely.

That he has been strong enough to admit having a problem is a major step toward rehabilitation.

Tim Smith has bipolar disorder which was diagnosed 18 months ago but he continued to play while seeking professional help.

His play this season has been criticised and may be part of the reason the Eels are struggling after being touted as definite top-four contenders, and assured members of the top eight.

Smith has been at the centre of more than one incident over the years, including indiscretions with alcohol and he has a tendency to over-enthusiastic behaviour. But now it can be understood why he was a 'problem child'.

There will always be people who say he's soft and needs to toughen up. Some will see his illness as an excuse to escape the public criticism he was receiving. Yes, he is in the public eye and, yes, he receives good remuneration for his talent, but a lot of people do not realise the pressure that can build around such scrutiny.

Public adulation, along with cynicism and condemnation, can be a bit too much for a 23-year-old to handle, but combine this with the disorder he has been diagnosed with, and it is no wonder he is on the brink of a breakdown. This illness is serious, has led to his depression and it can cause major problems if help is not sought.

A player from the mid-80s suffered from this same illness and sought the misconceived comfort of alcohol and drugs. His name was Peter Jackson, he played for the Raiders, Broncos and North Sydney Bears. He was a strategic figure in the powerful Queensland State of Origin teams of the 80s and was also a Kangaroo.

'Jacko' loved a drink and was widely known to enjoy himself and a few tales can be told of some of his exploits on the 1989 Kangaroo tour of New Zealand. But Jacko was hiding some issues from his past and this had an adverse effect on him.

Not until too late was anyone aware of the extent of his problems. Unfortunately, his depression was causing him and his family distress when, in November 1997, he took his life via a drug overdose.

Maybe Peter was sending a message through his behaviour and we didn't take enough notice.

Thankfully Tim Smith has taken the big step and asked for more help to deal with his depression and stepping away from Parramatta and rugby league in general, is a wake-up call for everyone to not judge people too quickly.

There is always a different person behind the public persona but, in most cases, they are just normal people with normal problems. Give them a break and try to understand their position.