“Leave the poor guy alone!”
That’s what I want to scream every time I see another headline about Ian Thorpe. Sure, I’m a journalist: there’s a huge amount of public interest in the story. But when is enough, enough?
On the front page of The Australian, the headline humiliates our greatest ever Olympian by calling him a “Fish Out of Water”.
The banner on the SMH blares, “a brush with police” implying an element of criminality.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph – which won’t correct its initial rehab report – describes him sitting in a car as a “bizarre incident”.
There’s nothing bizarre about it.
Ian Thorpe was disorientated after taking a mixture of antidepressants, and painkillers for an injured shoulder. Such a cocktail causes confusion.
I’ve lost count of the number of times this has happened to family members, and friends, who take medication for depression. Sadly, it’s an everyday occurrence in this country.
This is something Thorpie was drawing attention to when he wrote his autobiography, This is Me.
For years he suffered in silence.
“Not even my family is aware that I’ve spent a lot of my life battling what I can only describe as a crippling depression,” he wrote.
“Now I realise it’s time to be open. I need to talk to them about it.”
Like many people with depression, the five-time Olympic champion turned to alcohol and contemplated suicide.
My dear Dad did the same: A combination of alcohol and antidepressants was almost fatal. Fortunately, he pulled himself out of that pit, by giving up the grog and finding the right medication. But it took decades.
Dad’s always been shy: a quiet, gentle, lovable bloke who hates the spotlight, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to battle his demons in public. Perhaps he would have lost.
It’s impossible to understand what Ian Thorpe is going through unless you’ve walked a mile in those Size 17 shoes. Both Geoff Huegill and Petria Thomas struggled with depression after retiring from swimming.
Speaking on the ABC, sports psychologist Gerard Faure-Brac says it’s hard for many to let go of the “athlete identity”.
“In society in general, we can all do a lot better…. especially when it comes to the stigma associated with mental illness.”
We’re not just talking about athletes here: This is not your standard post-performance slump. Unfortunately, conversations about the mentally ill tend to elicit phrases such as “he’s a nutter” or “she’s lost it”.
Celebrity sufferers help to normalise the condition. These tweets offer some sage advice.
Let’s hope those around him understand the depth, and complexity, of his condition.
His manager, James Erskine, told the media, “There is plenty of things to do in life after swimming. He loves cooking, travel, and is a natural for television.”
But that’s of little comfort to someone who’s curled up in the corner of a room. During those times, nothing can make you happy. Simply saying, “You’ve got everything to live for,” is not enough.
He needs time, and space, to deal with this. It’s the least we can do.
*Tracey has requested that we don’t link to mainstream media stories about Ian Thorpe’s condition. Let’s leave the poor guy alone.