In the day and age of micro attention spans and the importance of drawing your readers in within three sentences, this is the absolutely worst way to start a post. However, I am not sure exactly where this piece is going to go. My hope is it will be a somewhat cathartic and help to get my creative juices flowing. It’s been two weeks since I’ve contributed to Jays Journal, and that is far too long.
Today is Bell Let’s Talk day, which is aimed at getting the conversation started about mental illness. The facts being 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer at some point in their lives, often in silence. Getting those that you are close to open up and discuss what is ailing them is often the first, and best, step in their treatment.
Baseball has quite a colourful history when it comes to characters. Racists, gamblers, alcoholics, cheats, scoundrels have all made their mark on the game. You would expect mental illness would have played a similarly significant role just for the sheer volume of players that have suited up. However, as per this excellent sports illustrated article, ‘the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2% of Americans age 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year – but for baseball it represents a sea change: Between 1972 and ’91 the grand total of mental DLs in the major leagues was zero.’
In the male dominated, ego-filled clubhouse having even a sniff of a mental illness was considered weak. And players were/are afraid this weakness would be construed as an inability to ‘come through in the clutch’ and potentially cost them their jobs.
Baseball players are set up to fail. The old cliche being a good hitter is unsuccessful seven out of ten times. Add in the fact that every mistake a player made is discussed, analyzed, and often criticised ad nauseam. Mix in injuries, a schedule that has players on their own, away from their families for at least half a season, and often, the entire season, it is not hard to see how negative thoughts may creep into a players mind. And how, over time, these may begin to manifest as a diagnosable mental illness.
Recent times have seen players more willing to both discuss and seek treatment for their issues. Zack Greinke was probably the most famous early case as he missed virtually an entire season to clinical depression and social anxiety disorder. Other big names to miss time include Joey Votto, Milton Bradley, and Dontrelle Willis.
Teams are also far more willing to help players get better, offering treatment, time off, and any other means that may be at their disposal. Cynics might argue they are protecting some pretty significant investments but I have to believe most organizations would have their players best interests at heart.
Oct 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) warms up during batting practice prior to the game against the San Francisco Giants in game three of the 2012 NLDS at Great American Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
So, why am I writing about mental health when there are far better writers out there who have touched on the subject?
Well, as spring training opens and, after an incredible off-season, excitement should be building towards what will hopefully be a breakout season for the Jays, I find myself paralyzed when it comes to writing about them. After moving continents, struggling to find employment, and becoming a father for a second time, I may need to admit that there is more to me walking around like a zombie than having children. Writing about the Jays, a topic I love, used to be a bit of an escape for me. Now I feel guilty. I should be looking for a job, I should be taking the kids out, etc etc.
It’s a difficult subject to talk about, but with excellent initiatives such as Bell Let’s Talk Day leading the way, hopefully the stigma that you should keep these problems hidden away subsides. I’m lucky, I have a great wife who is very understanding and a creative outlet to put my thoughts down in writing. Others may not have that network. If you’re in a position to give someone a hand, please do so.