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Mental health is an issue that has been with us since thought. The problem has always been that we have struggled to accept that what goes on within our brains has anywhere to go but into a Doctor’s waiting room or a specialist hospital. With the possibility that a hospital may not be the only place to ensure a full recovery we have suddenly unleashed the burden of realising that we, as friends, neighbours or as family members can have a massive positive influence on those loved ones around us – or even strangers – that they are struggling to live with their ill health or recover. Who knew? Actually I think we all did.
Last month Heavyweight boxer, Dave Allen, came out and said he was taking a break. It was not a kiddy on retirement like David Haye or a hand injury like Amir Khan that had forced this move. Allen had been suffering from depression and he wanted the time to deal with this and take time away from a sport he loves to ensure that such a recovery was going to be long term. The fact that former foe Dillian Whyte then took up the phone and made the effort to go and see him should be held as an example to us all of how to deal with mental ill health – go and help out!
Boxing has struggled to deal with such issues in the past because of the image it has of being a macho, pent up and raging sport. Comments like those of the Eubanks over towels and pain do nothing to temper that image.
The fact that Allen felt comfortable – at least seemed comfortable – in talking to Sky about it might suggest a change and it certainly does at least highlight the issue.
For boxers it has always been a mental struggle after retiring and not before so this is a bit left field for some. People like Joe Calzaghe have admitted dabbling in drugs like cocaine and for many the boredom after an all consuming career can just be horrendous. For Frank Bruno, he has had public battles which though they have never gathered the complete prominence of the likes of Paul Gascoigne are no less real.
Of course one of the trail blazers in challenging boxing stereotypes was Kelly Maloney. Her outing was and should be a nationally celebrated event. Though forced through tabloid exposure being on the horizon it has brought transgender into the realm of a new audience. People had to confront – none more than Audley Harrison who was in the Big Brother house with her – their attitudes to something that was alien to their creed. This is of course the only similarity to mental ill health though the treatment of transgender people has led to massive forms of mental ill health as transgender people have struggled with their identities and the safety of declaring them.
At least they thought it was alien to their creed – there are undoubtedly a number of people in the sport who have trans sides. They will not be able to expose their truth to people because no matter how liberal we may be publicly there is always Tyson Fury in the locker room or an Alex reid in the public domain.
Of course we are all now speculating, over why Tyson Fury’s bout with Wladimir Klitschko has been postponed for a second time – just what is medically unfit to fight? A physical injury might be spread all over social media like when it was announced that his cousin Hughie had battled with a skin condition and we also have the UDAK enquiry and hearing to come, which must play on his mind. Is Fury genuinely physically unwell or is he slipping closer to being mentally unable to contemplate a boxing future? There are plenty who have been concerned over his stability and this just adds fuel to their fire. Tyson’s words, aimed at David Haye and his 2 postponements, will start to be quoted back at him unless there is clarity. Unfortunately for the Furys, those that court the media will have them following their every word, especially when they scent metaphorical instead of real blood.
The issue though, of depression, and mental ill health in general is still a taboo. We struggle to change the attitudes of those who still believe it a matter of choice and not of illness. Allen’s brave stance might just change the belief system of one person who might just get the opportunity of helping someone deal with their mental ill health. I hope they grasp that nettle and don’t get stung.