For whom the ball tolls

I was just re-reading the excellent Prospect magazine article on psychotherapy and cricket when I was struck by a bit about the high rate of suicides in professional cricket players that I’d not noticed before.

It mentions David Frith’s book Silence of the Heart which specifically focuses on the large numbers of ex-cricket pros who have taken their own lives. This from the New Statesman review:

Is this grim roll call of any significance? In 1998, 1.07 per cent of the 264,707 male deaths in the UK were attributable to suicide; according to David Frith’s research, of the 339 England Test cricketers who had died by July 2000, 1.77 per cent were suicides. The figures are even higher for Australia (well, they have to beat us at everything, don’t they?), South Africa (an astonishing 4.12 per cent) and New Zealand. In all, Frith has unearthed more than 100 examples from all levels of the game.

I looked in the medical literature and it seems it has also been discussed there. A paper in Australasian Psychiatry examined mental illness in professional Aussie cricketers and found high rates of mood disorders, suicide, and drug and alcohol issues, along similar lines to a recent study on professional jazz musicians.

During my search I came across the astounding and tragic life of South African cricketer Aubrey Faulkner (pictured), who came from a violent background to be a cricketing legend, war hero, sports mentor and finally a suicide statistic.

It’s not clear whether cricket is particularly associated with mental illness, or whether this just reflects a trend in all elite level sportsmen, but it’s an unusual connection that I’d never come across before.

Link to New Statesman review of ‘Silence of the Heart’.
Link to PubMed entry for paper on mental illness and cricket.

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