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We shouldn’t fault Bernard Tomic. In fact, him openly admitting feelings of depression on national television should be lauded, considering the crisis we face in this country.
In this country, sporting heroes are elevated to the status of gods. We position them as role models to our kids, swap stories of their achievements like they were mates, share in their highs and shed tears during their lows.
On the flipside, our lofty expectations come with a sizeable price. Failure to reach potential, or God forbid, act in an “un-Australian” fashion, welcome to pariahsville. Like any form of hero worship, it’s all too easy to forget a very simple but important fact. They’re very much human. They are vulnerable to the same things that we all are.
This week has seen one of Australia’s most divisive sportsmen, Bernard Tomic, re-enter the limelight as a contestant on Channel 10’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.
Tomic has long been Icarus in a Nike sweatband, soaring to the stratosphere of the top twenty at age 18, but the superheated glare of expectations versus reality melted the wax that held together his wings, and his tumble has sadly become more notable than his climb.
We’ve all born witness to it, and our reaction has been uniform. Tsk tsk tsk. Be it continued speeding in gaudy sportscars, hubristic brawls in Gold Coast jacuzzis or bluntly admitting that he wasn’t really trying over the course of his career. Unfortunately, the list goes on.
If there are two things the Australian sporting public hate more than anything, they’re someone who thinks his shit doesn’t stink, and someone who wastes the talent we weren’t afforded. Tomic is both of these things in the absolutely strictest definition. So, open-and-shut, right? Waste, embarrassment, tool. This hearing of the court of public opinion on the matter of Mr Tomic is now closed.
Tomic’s recent appearance on I’m a Celebrity… did nothing to wriggle free of his collectively held definition in this country. After three days, he packed his bags and left the show, leaving host Julia Morris to describe him as a “quitter” and co-host Dr Chris Brown joking about what the departure cost Channel 10 financially.
Whilst he may have a laundry list of offences that justify criticism, he, a young Australian male with a high profile, admitted to his depression on television…without shame and in a surprisingly open fashion. Why aren’t we celebrating this?
On the surface, the criticism seems warranted. Tomic was the headline “celebrity” for the show, and significant time, effort and funds would have been invested in his appearance for little return. It also seems to validate the opinion that many have of him as a “flog”.
There is, however, more than meets the eye.
On multiple occasions during his three-day tenure, Tomic described himself as depressed. He specifically mentioned that he wasn’t coping. A dose of tough love from Hawthorn Premiership Player, Josh Gibson, resulted in Tomic giving us a glimpse into his psyche; describing his lack of childhood and describing how isolating tennis is as a sport.
For a moment, let’s try and sprinkle a little perspective. Tomic, like all tennis stars, started his career young. While most of us were playing Nintendo or climbing trees, he would have been training during every spare moment.
Once he had tasted success, life would have likely only become harder. Every failure dissected by not only his coach and colleagues but by the entire nation; both on and off the court.
I’m by no means a psychologist, but I think most would agree that that sort of path for a young man is more often than not going to have a serious toll psychologically. A toll that could very easily explain some of Tomic’s behaviour. Suspecting that you might not have lived up to your obvious potential is as good a catalyst for depression as I can think of.
Following his departure from the show, there are still many that see his actions in quitting as nothing more than Tomic being Tomic.
Is it though?
Depression, particularly amongst young males in Australia is a serious problem. One in seven young men aged between 16 and 24 experience depression or anxiety each year.
If that wasn’t alarming enough, in 2016 suicide was the leading cause of death among all people 15-44 years of age and the second leading cause of death among those 45-54 years of age. In the 15-24 years of age bracket, suicide accounted for 35.4% of all deaths in 2016 and 28.6% among the 25-34 bracket.
Now, add to that the fact that men are less likely to seek help than women, with only one in four men who experience anxiety or depression accessing treatment. Approximately 3,000 Australian’s take their lives each year – 75% of those are men – which equates to an average of six men taking their life every single day. So much so that it is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 54, significantly exceeding the national road toll.
Did I say serious problem? Sorry, I mean incredibly serious problem.
The perceived taboo of mental illness surrounding young Australian men has been well covered.
Tomic has been criticised over and over again for not living up to what we expected – as a sportsperson or as a role model.
Whilst he may have a laundry list of offences that justify such criticism, he actually did something incredibly important this week which has been glossed over. The headlines are more important than the act itself. He, a young Australian male with a high profile, admitted to his depression on television. He did so without shame and in a surprisingly open fashion.
Why aren’t we celebrating this?
Yes, he may have encouraged some young guys out there to drive fast cars, get lap dances or throw tantrums when things don’t go your way, but if his open admission regarding his struggles with the black dog reaches one young man who otherwise wouldn’t have sought help, then he is a role model by every definition of the term.
Also on The Big Smoke
- What a difference a year made for my mental health
- TBS Anon: To the man who talked me out of suicide by discussing the weather
Tomic potentially showed a whole group of young people that there isn’t any shame in admitting that you are struggling. Nor should there be any shame in walking away from something if you aren’t coping with it. While the hosts of I’m a Celebrity… make light of his decision and deride him, we should be taking the opportunity to bring this topic to the front of our consciousness again, and celebrate Tomic’s example.
I don’t know if Tomic has been diagnosed with depression. It doesn’t matter. The point is that he wasn’t afraid to use the word – and neither should anyone be. If we want to keep trying to fix this problem, and I damn well hope we do, then it’s these moments that we have to shine a big bright light on. One person lost to suicide is too many. 3,000 is abhorrent.
The only way to continue to attack the stigma is to publicly talk about it without shame and to celebrate those in the public eye who do the same.
Well done, Bernard.