Indian Cricket and Mental Healthcare – A Long Road Ahead

Indians and cricket, an inseparable combination which has seen many highs and lows. Cricket is highly celebrated and a revered source of entertainment to many Indians irrespective of gender, age, background, etc.
Growing up, during cricket seasons, one can see family and friends enjoying watching matches on a small television set with a bite of snacks, members of the public lining outside television showrooms to catch a glimpse of their favorite players through glass windows, scoring commentaries blasting from radio boxes.
As time went by, cricket that is part of the very fabric of our nation began changing .The game became increasingly commercialized and cricketers seen as commodities rather than sportsmen. People started seeing matches as income generators through gambling apps and other such avenues.

What we all have to remember is that cricket is a sport and it serves as entertainment to the public, as a source of income to the players, and as a pride to the nation. The players on the field are human beings just like you and me – have families and friends and have to deal with the challenges of professional and personal lives, much like anyone else.

The need to understand and acknowledge the pain and suffering of sports players is important. The awareness has to reach the public as well as the sports community at large.
From an article that was published in the cricket monthly.com titled –’Does India have a plan for the mental health for its players’, the problems and the reality of the importance given to the mental health of cricketers can be understood.

It is very sad to know that players’ mental health is not taken as seriously as their physical fitness. Very few cricketers like Virat Kohli, Robin Uthappa and Sheldon Jackson have opened up about their success stories of dealing with mental health challenges including the lack of support from the system, and the struggle they faced during tournaments.

Players have expressed that the fear of being removed from the team, facing social media criticism, losing their audience’s love and fans, have been factors that led them to struggle silently.

The worrying point to note is that India does not have enough mental health workers. While there is some support for the male cricket team, there is no psychiatrist nor mental health support for the women’s cricket team even after an open request made by the cricketers. It is high time that mental health be seen as equally important to that of the physical health of the players. If England and other countries’ cricket associations can understand the importance of mental health of sportspersons, why can’t our country?

Sport is a field that has given us a lot of happiness and pride, and the players have given us such joyful moments with their electrifying performances. Anything can happen in a sport and every player on the field has good and bad days. Many days of practice, exercise, balanced diet regimes and so on can help a player prepare to play their best game. But there are many other important factors that decide their success. Mental health is one such vital factor that affects a player both during practice as well as during the actual game. Having disturbances in the mental state of individuals can happen just as them having a fever or a cold.

With respect to the sport, it is not just the role of the players, or the sports associations to deal with the issue, but we as an audience also have a role to play and mistakes to rectify.
All we have to do is develop an attitude to look at mental health and mental illness as a common issue in our lives and work towards creating an environment where both the affected and the caregivers can openly talk about it and soon ,with the help of mental health professionals. Awareness on the importance of mental health is essential and the taboo related to it should be removed.
Since this article is specifically about cricket, it is high time that we as an audience, stop showing hatred and stop mocking the players if they fail to score runs or lose a match, We never know what they might be going through.

It is the role of the public to understand that-
• Cricket is a part of a cricketer’s life and it is not their life.
• Cricket is a sport that loses its purpose when seen as a commodity.
• They certainly should not ridicule the players nor comment on their personal lives.

Many other countries have been supportive of their players taking a break from their respective sport if the players felt the need to. It would be really nice if our country also provides such an environment.
An atmosphere where players are allowed to openly say -‘Yes, I don’t feel like playing and I need a break’ should be created and there should be more importance given to it by sports authorities.
We have to develop an open mentality towards seeing people who have mental illness as normal, show them more love and affection than usual, encourage people to visit mental health professionals and lend them a listening ear when they need it .We must avoid blaming the person for what they are going through; empathy is the need of the hour.
When speaking about mental illness, we need to create more awareness about its importance, create a space where many untold stories of fighting mental illness can be told without any hesitation or fear of judgment and hope for positive changes when it comes to talking about and seeking support for mental health challenges.

Written by:
R. Jayaharshini, (Trainee at WOW)
Psychiatric Social Worker from LOYOLA College, Chennai

Guided by:
Ms. Kruthika Muralinath
Consultant – Communication & Creatives at WOW

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