We have written extensively on the issue of mental health recently. It is a subject getting a lot of coverage at the moment. Another previously taboo subject which has moved in the right direction in society, but, clearly, still has some way to go.
As a big cricket fan, I am well aware of the number of cases of mental health issues that have arisen in the sport in the last few years. There are three cases involving England cricketers alone. Jonathan Trott is the latest one, Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy the other two. A number of other players around the world have also suffered, and the story of Robert Enke, a professional footballer in Germany, is harrowing. Clearly, this is not an issue that is confined to one sport or even sport in general. Nor is it an issue that takes account of factors such as wealth, status, prestige or talent. It can affect anyone, and certainly gives credence to the adage that money can’t (or certainly, does not necessarily) buy happiness.
News of Jonathan Trott’s withdrawal from the current Ashes tour and the reasons behind it have provoked much debate and comment. It is a sign of the progress that still needs to be made, that much of the comment is nonsensical and ignorant diatribe from ill-informed individuals. A quick glance through Twitter reveals phrases such as “needs to man-up”, and “winners never quit, and quitters never win” (the latter being an ambiguous Tweet from one Piers Morgan, who, with 3.8million Twitter followers, clearly has a level of influence – whatever you may think of him as a man). One Australian cricketer, in the context of the first Test match, referred to Trott as “weak”. Whilst it must be pointed out that there is nothing to suggest that the Australian player knew anything of Trott’s condition, it does highlight the need to be sensitive to how other may be feeling – you can see how office ‘banter’ might badly affect someone who is dealing with (but has not revealed) a mental illness.
However, it has been really encouraging to see the level of support for Trott, and his bravery in accepting publically that he needed time out to recover. The first step in dealing with mental health issues is to recognise the issue.
In an employment context, it is only right that we also look to the response of Trott’s employer, the England & Wales Cricket Board. The ECB appears to have provided support and understanding to Trott – it has recognised that an issue it previously believed was under control, is no longer, and it is with the Board’s blessing that Trott has returned home, with no immediate expectation that he returns to work. From its public pronouncements, support is being offered by the employer and that is another really positive aspect that everyone should remember.
Any employer should consider what support it can offer an employee suffering from mental health issues. Is there a specialist medical practitioner who could examine the employee and recommend treatment/rehabilitation, is there a counselling service available? If it is something that continues for a sustained period of time, employers should also consider whether there are any reasonable adjustments that can be made in their daily routine or general working life to assist the employee. In Trott’s case, support is also being provided to him through the Professional Cricketer’s Association (PCA), much in line with the help given by the Sporting Chance Clinic to a number of footballers suffering from illnesses, from depression to gambling addiction or alcoholism.
Of course, some people (the all-knowing Piers Morgan among them) have asked why Trott was allowed to join the Ashes cricket tour when his mental health issues were known about (privately) by the ECB? It is my view that the question can be given a very simple answer. No, not that one.
Just because an employee is suffering from mental health issues does not mean that he should be forgotten, ignored, consigned to the scrap heap or in fact that he is necessarily unfit to perform at the highest levels.
It was not (on the basis of what we know) appropriate for Jonathan Trott to be excluded from the England cricket squad. I understand he has managed his condition for some time. Certainly, within that implied timeframe (I have heard it dates back to at least 2010), he has been one of England’s highest scoring batsman and most consistent performers. I am sure that appropriate planning will have been done by the large team of support team of medical and other practitioners who work with the cricket squad. As a result of a separate incident involving Stuart Broad, we know that they regularly carry out psychoanalysis in order to assess which players will react best to certain conditions.
This is an emotive subject because it affects so many people, because there remain a number of people who appear not to understand the very concept of mental illness and because it is difficult to spot sufferers, let alone know exactly how to handle them. There is an added sense of intrigue, if I can put it that way, when it involves a professional sportsman, handsomely rewarded for his work and living a lifestyle that is more than comfortable, with regular travel around the world.
I do not pretend to have very many answers, but I do think that the case demonstrates the complex nature of mental health in the workplace. Most of all, I wish Jonathan Trott a speedy recovery.