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 The following article is taken directly from the Text Book 'Mental Health for Rugby League...a complete survival guide'.

Mental Illness….A Defence? 

                                                                                             By John Mathison                                                                             08/06/2009


This chapter relates to a very sensitive issue. I have no doubt that many may potentially be insulted by its content, though my intention is not to offend anyone. It is, however, a matter that needs to be addressed and one that has, until now, been neglected. I would suggest that you read the preceding chapters on ‘Depression & Suicide’ and other mental illnesses before you judge this section too harshly.  


Depression & other related mental health diagnoses have the potential to become the ‘bad back’ of the 21st century. This is certainly not to imply that everyone who suffers back or spinal problems is untruthful, though it is a documented fact that many people have feigned a back complaint in order to receive a benefit of some sort. What is sad is that those who genuinely suffer back problems can attest to the agony they experience. Those who ‘fake’ complaints like these are behaving disgracefully, disrespectfully and insultingly toward those genuine sufferers. Why is it that they can do this despite medical advances in diagnostic technology? Because back complaints are generally unique to the individual and based largely on the pain the person subjectively proclaims to be experiencing.  


Mental illness, particularly depression, can similarly provide a questionably authentic diagnosis. For the sportsperson, this is not generally for any ‘centrelink’ benefit, though there is the avenue to explain behaviour that is unacceptable, inappropriate and well reported by the media. A player is caught with illicit drugs, or using illicit drugs. A player may behave immorally or illegally under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These scenarios have been covered regularly by the different media outlets and it is becoming increasingly popular to cite ‘depression’ as an underlying cause or associated illness which has contributed or driven the player to behave in such a way; ‘Their battle with depression’. This misuse of a very serious illness is, like the false back complaints, an injustice and insult to those who genuinely suffer depression or any other related mental illness. 


As with the ‘back problem’, I am not suggesting that any of our recent footballers are not genuine. I am merely stating that the potential is there for this misuse. All players need to be mindful of the seriousness of claiming depression, if they are not indeed suffering the illness. They also need to be aware that aberrant behaviour is a choice and that the ‘escape clause’ of illness will not always work. 


If you need any evidence for the purported proclamation of depression as a defence, or means of mitigation, then turn on the news and watch for court cases where someone’s solicitor has attempted to explain the behaviour and actions of his client by means of the ‘depression’ defence. This may be to exonerate or prove innocence, or it may be to reduce the severity of the penalty or punishment to be metered out by the Magistrate or Judge. It is becoming very common and an unfortunate byproduct of our society and the increased coverage and awareness of depression and mental illness generally. Even if the illness is genuine, it merely ‘explains the behaviour or act, it does not excuse it’. 


Remember, everyone feels ‘down’ or ‘depressed’ at times in their life. This can be particularly true when you have your name and photo plastered across television screens and newspapers. This type of ‘normal’ reactive depression as a result of poor behaviour or decision making and being ‘caught’ does not mean you have serious problems with depression. It simply means the ‘jig is up’. Don’t try to engender sympathy, pity or understanding in the general public, the clubs, your family, friends etc., by utilizing this explanation. 


As stated before, it is seriously insulting and cruel to those who are overcome by depression and its negative symptoms, or any other mental illness for that matter. Depression can result in death by suicide, so it is not something that should be treated so lightly and abused so readily. If you ever feel the need to utilize this defence unfairly…then don’t. If you have transgressed a law, or a code of conduct or club’s or organizations rules, then accept the consequences as the ‘strong & tough’ person that plays the game of Rugby League. If, however, you do suffer from depression, then maybe the means by which you have coped has led to the situation you find yourself in. All those ‘self-remedy’ methods of drug & alcohol usage have become the focus, but it may turn out to be the best in the long run. Take it as a positive; take it as an opportunity to address your illness and turn your life around. Seek real help & assistance….Now.  



It is hoped that these articles, commentaries, opinions and 'stories' might give rise to a different angle or perspective in relation to a variety of issues and cause for thought & consideration. Should anyone wish to make comment or offer their own opinions, please refer to the Bulletin Board. Should you have an article or peice of literature you feel might be suitable for this section, contact us directly via phone, post or email us with your 'story' or 'article' at articles@kickoff.net.au . Copies of past articles can be found in the archive section.



©2008 Waldel Pty Ltd

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