Conrad Liveris

Mental Health: Mitch Clark tackles the dreaded “black dog”

mitch clark afl footballer
AAP Image/Paul Mille

Sometimes it takes someone prominent to reveal our own insecurities.

To say I do not understand AFL football is an understatement, however, when I read that  Melbourne Football Club Mitch Clark was retiring from the game due to mental health issues I knew I had to take interest.

We are not a people who willingly discuss mental health. Despite the multitude of actors dealing with this mental health issue, we fail to sustain interest. Between medical and psychological treatment to advocacy we are not getting anywhere.

With 1 in every 5 Australians facing the dreaded “black dog” every year, it is about time we face up to the challenge of a conversation about this especially when one takes into account that 65 percent of those with a mental illness do not access treatment.

Depression does not discriminate – it is the leading cause of death for young Australians and is increasingly impacting older Australians and those headed toward retirement. Beyond an emotional toll, mental health impacts the economy by up to $20 billion each year.

We are afraid of the ridicule and isolation that can be attached to such an illness. Life throws us different things, and even those seemingly successful like Clark can feel distance and depression.

Depression does not discriminate – it is the leading cause of death for young Australians

It is not the end of the world if we call out for help, admit we are failing or just need some support. One of the best things about people is that we like to help and care for those in need.

Unless we are frank and open we cannot achieve that.

Quantifying and describing mental illness is a challenging task, especially when we are concerned about our openness, yet these strides will help all of us. Mitch Clark was able to prioritise his health while at the top of his career. It is heartening to see such a step being taken.

People in positions of privilege and power rarely make a stand so striking as that of Clark. This is not about him as a sports player, but about him as a role model. Using this influence to engage with young people and men to open up about mental illness could be invaluable. Involvement and understanding of our own limitations and support networks is only a good thing.

Discussing mental health can be difficult, but putting our heads in the sand about it for fear of discussing it openly is exacerbating the issue further.

Mitch Clark just made this a little easier.

(Ed’s note – make sure you hit TBS on Saturday for a compelling piece on mental health by Bronte O’Brien – it’s a bloody great read!)

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One Comment;

  1. Bronte O'Brien said:

    Hey Conrad, great article. I had an incident the other day which inspired exactly the kind of indignation your own article possessed. I’m sick of people preventing opportunities for those of us who care to confront real issues around mental health. I really related to what you were saying there.

    Just getting into the particularities… “Black dog” is a term reserved generally just for depression, not for mental health or mental illness broadly. 1 in 5 Australians will have some articulation of mental illness, not limited at all to just depression. It is not depression that is the leading cause of death for young Australians, but rather suicide – as you may have gathered, they are very different things that don’t necessarily have a causal relationship. Also, recent conservative estimates have placed the economic cost of poor mental health at around $27b, but I also know there are numerous ways to calculate this so $20b could be a safe figure too – I’m interested where the figure came from. Lastly, I think there was just a bit of confusion around some of the terms you were using, definitions of mental health/mental illness/mental ill health etc. You can tell I have mental health problems around perfectionism… hehe.

    Completely agree that how mental health is confronted in this country is not adequate… but I think you unfairly disparage your own article here by saying that “we are not getting anywhere”! This was a great read.

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