The Demon We Ignored

A couple of years back I was attending this well organized seminar. It was all going well, I was having a very wonderful time until this rough looking dude was introduced. He was an invited guest who will speak on the topic 'Mental Health Issues'. As he walked gingerly to the podium I felt a surge of resentment towards him, probably because he doesn't look like the stereotypical motivational speakers who are known for their smooth, silky way of doing things. I said to myself, "This dude has nothing to say to me that I'm willing to listen to."

When he started out explaining what mental health was and how it could affect our lives I resented him the more. If looks could kill, the dude would drop dead in an instant; my gaze was so fiery it could bore a hole in his body. And just when I least expected, his words blasted open a very old, well guarded wound in my heart.

Growing up, I had a young relative who died untimely. His death was even more painful because he took his own life. When it happened, the explanation was simple and straightforward : the powers of darkness cursed him to kill himself ( Wón sà si). And right in front of me a man was bold enough to tell me in hindsight that my relative actually died of mental health issues, and not of some curses from the powers of darkness. I was going absolutely nuts right there and then. That was my first bare-knuckle encounter with the monster called mental health issues.

As I walked home, I reflected on the words of the speaker and realized a lot of people around were just a tipping point away from doing the unthinkable because their mental health was in danger. I evaluated myself and realized that I wasn't that far away from the tipping point also; I only needed a couple of things to go wrong and I would become an emotional wreck too. That was when I started taking the topic seriously.

As a sports writer, I've read and written a couple of articles related to mental health issues in recent years. On several occasions I've found myself defending footballers who were receiving serious heat from supporters due to their poor form which was triggered by mental health issues unknown to the supporters. Even at that, it takes a lot of convincing to attribute mental health issues to the failure of a dude who is getting paid northwards of £100,000 every blessed week. They'll tell you he has the best of psychologists at his beck and call, so mental health issues shouldn't be an excuse.

History is littered with stories of incredibly talented footballers who never made it to the top because of one addiction or the other. Paul Gascoigne is one, Tony Adams is another. Unsurprisingly, those addictions were the effect of mental issues, not the cause. Recently, Jadon Sancho had to spend time in the Netherlands while the season was in full swing because the manager said he wasn't mentally ready. He was racially abused after missing a penalty kick at the Euro 2020 final. Safe to say he is yet to fully recover from those mental scars.

Mental health issues can grow and get nurtured by the most insignificant of things. When I watched that popular Indian movie '3 Idiots' in 2009, I could vividly remember a student who took his life because he wouldn't be allowed to graduate. Amir Khan's character accused the VC of murdering the student because of the pressure he heaped on the deceased. The VC called that nonsense and indirectly told him this world is not meant for the weak. I wrongly agreed with the vc then and berated the deceased student because I do not know what mental health was. But now, I know what it is; I know what it looks like.

How I Nurture My Mental Health
As a full time freelancer, I spend a lot of my time alone. Those regular moments of solitude are a fertile ground for mental imbalance to sprout. So, one of the things I do to clear my head is to sometimes find a loud, boisterous place to unwind after those periods of quietness. Going out to a viewing centre to watch a football match with strangers does the trick for me. How about you?

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