On Depression and Gary Speed Suicide

Posted on November 27, 2011 3:30 pm

This morning, Wales National Team coach and Premier League legend, Gary Speed was found dead, hanged in his house. Everything seems to point to a suicide. The world of football has been completely shocked by the news in these last hours. He was only 42 and, according to the BBC, he was giving interviews even yesterday, with no hint whatsoever on what he was about to do.

Few actions in human behaviour cause as much disbelief as suicide. It makes sense only for the one who points the gun to his temple (or in this case, hangs the rope). Everyone else usually feels a mixture of shame, frustration and blame. His loved ones will be in anguish for not having done something to prevent it and the casual obituary reader will always believe there was another way out.

Coincidentally, last night, former English player Stan Collymore published a text in Twitter about his long fight against depression. You can read it here, but it’s interesting to reproduce a couple of paragraphs:

“If your mind is empty, your brain ceases to function, your body is pinned to the bed, the future is a dark room with no light and this is your reality, it takes a massive leap of faith to know that this time next week, life could be running again, smiling, my world big and my brain back as it should be. So what do some do? They don’t take the leap of faith, they address a practical problem with a practical solution to them, and that is taking their own life. And sadly,too many take that route out of this hell”.

“I’m typing and my brain is full, cloudy and detached but I know I need to elaborate on what I’m going through because there are so many going through this that need to know it’s an illness, just an illness. Not bad, mad, crazy or weak, just ill”.

It’s only very recently since football started to treat depression seriously. Before, when a player wasn’t feeling right the coach would tell him to man up and the fans would criticize him for not enjoying his millions. Since the suicide of German ‘keeper Robert Enke two years ago, the conservative, monolithic world of football has started to consider it a medical condition, rather than an eccentricity by spoiled rich players.

And still, what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Enke’s depression bouts were widely known, nobody had any clue about Speed. He had been very successful in his first stint as a manager, resurrecting an ailing Welsh side and giving their fanbase hope for Brazil 2014. He had a wife and two kids. He had just retired from a long and illustrious career that made him the player with most appearances in the Premier League.

Collymore felt urged to write that depression is “just an illness”, because awareness comes slow. And there have been too many cases recently -Enke, Sebastian Deisler, the referee Babak Rafati-  not to take it seriously. More research is needed, preventive actions have to be taken and above all, suffering players should be encouraged to take a step forward and not being chastised and mocked for doing it.

Rest in peace Gary Speed.

About Martin del Palacio

My name is Martín del Palacio Langer, I live in Barcelona and I'm a freelance contributor to FIFA.com, World Soccer magazine, Kicker, MedioTiempo.com, PasionSports and some other publications around the world. I love the tactical and statistical side of football but understand that passion is the most important ingredient in the game. Hope you enjoy this blog and feel free to contact me in the comments section or in www.twitter.com/martindelpENG (for English) and www.twitter.com/martindelp (for Spanish)
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