Freddie Flintoff, 41, seemingly goes from strength to strength. Since retiring from cricket, he has made a name for himself on television, taking part in a string of successful shows across Sky One, ITV and the BBC. Despite seeming self-possessed and even stoical on the surface, he surprised many fans when he candidly revealed he has battled with depression in his past. A condition he found both isolating and inexplicable.
The professional althlete first drew the public’s attention to his depression in his BBC documentary, Freddie Flintoff, Hidden Side of Sport, where he admitted: “I was having a quiet drink with my dad Colin on Christmas Eve 2006 [having already lost the Ashes] and as we made our way home I started crying my eyes out. I told him I’d tried my best but that I couldn’t do it any more, I couldn’t keep playing.
“We talked and, of course, I dusted myself down and carried on. But I was never the same player again. I was captain of England and financially successful. Yet instead of walking out confidently to face Australia in one of the world’s biggest sporting events, I didn’t want to get out of bed, never mind face people.”
Having a low self-esteem and losing motivation are common signifiers of depression, according to the NHS, both of which can vary in their severity from person to person.
Although the condition can be hard to pinpoint, the health body defines depression as feeling persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.
There is a misconception that depression isn’t a genuine health condition, rather it is something people can lift themselves out of by ‘pulling themselves together’, it added.
The notion that depression somehow a sign of weakness is a harmful myth that Flintoff is keen to bust.
In an interview with the Mirror back in 2017, he said: “There was a “pull yourself together” attitude, but if only it was as easy as that,” he says thoughtfully. “But now I have a tight group of mates at the gym, we all realise we’re not going to have six packs when we train, but we talk about how we feel and look out for each other.”
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live for Mental Health week, Flintoff also spoke about breaking the stigma associated with taking medication to treat depression. He said: “I know it [stigma] is a buzz-word at the minute and people say about ‘breaking down the stigma’,
“I hear it all the time and for me it’s a word that shouldn’t be used.
“I’m on medication,” added Flintoff, who takes anti-depressants.
“If I was playing cricket and I had a bad leg, I’d take an anti-inflammatory. If I had a headache, I’d have an aspirin or a paracetamol.
“My head’s no different. If there’s something wrong with me, I’m taking something to help that.”
It got to the stage where I was probably drinking more than I should
The NHS advises people to seek treatments such as prescribed medication and warns agains turning to alcohol, which will exacerbate the problem, even if it seems to provide some short-term relief. In his documentary, Flintoff alluded to his experience of this: “I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew when I got back to my room I couldn’t shut off, which is why I started having a drink. It got to the stage where I was probably drinking more than I should.”
There are a wide-range of options available for treating depression. For mild cases of depression, the NHS advises exercising more regularly.
Antidepressants are often a suitable course of action for people that are experiencing moderate or severe depression, added the NHS.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is another recommended route. It aims to help people understand their thoughts and behaviour, and how it is affecting them.
Some people might find counselling is an effective way of treating the condition. “It’s ideal for people who are generally healthy but need help coping with a current crisis, such as anger, relationship issues, bereavement, redundancy, infertility or a serious illness,” said the health body.
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