Lou Vincent: 'My depression is an ongoing battle. Day to day it's there...'

He hit a Test century on debut but Lou Vincent's demons took over. He tells Will Hawkes how he is finally winning the battle
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It is a long way from the Waca to Hove, as Lou Vincent would no doubt tell you. The former New Zealand opening batsman, who scored a century on his Test debut against Australia in Perth in 2001, arrived in Sussex this season but how he got there sets him apart from your average overseas county pro. In the 10 years since that remarkable start to his international career, Vincent has struggled with depression. Happily, his story demonstrates how the game is beginning to get to grips with this most debilitating of mental conditions.

One reason for that is a growing public awareness of the problem. Marcus Trescothick was the man whose problems first brought depression into the public eye when he had to return from India in 2006, crippled by anxiety and homesickness. Most recently, Vincent's Sussex captain, Michael Yardy, was forced to come back from the World Cup where he had been part of the England squad. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live's "Depression in Cricket" last week, Trescothick explained that the condition is all-pervasive. "There's so much to it," Trescothick said. "People say, 'Pull yourself together, move on'. I wish that it was that simple. You try and forget, but it takes over your whole life."

It was in 2007 that Vincent's depression came to a head: having been in and out of the New Zealand side over the previous six years, he decided then that he needed to change his life: "To get away from cricket was the best thing for me," the 32-year-old says. A combination of on-field and off-field problems had contributed to his condition, but his treatment by the New Zealand selectors did not help.

"I'm a passionate man; I've got a New Zealand tattoo, I was very passionate about playing for New Zealand," he says. "But how many times can you be let down by something that you love? It's like the love of your life, she takes you back and she drops you. How many times can you have your heart broken? I think mine was broken about 12 times. I wasn't equipped well enough to deal with that pressure.

"Looking back, I feel I can take on the world, I love playing against the best cricketers in the world. But it's the pressure of when things aren't going well, being dropped – who's there to support you? What's the network around you?"

This lack of support left Vincent feeling desperate, he says. "I dealt with things myself, and I had no idea that negativity was creeping in more and more in my life until I was absolutely empty, until I was totally gone. I had my first child, who I would look at and think, 'God, what world have I bought you into? I am completely pathetic'."

Matthew Hoggard, the former England bowler who, like Trescothick, was interviewed by Michael Vaughan on the BBC programme, had similar feelings during a tour of New Zealand in 2008. "I was thinking that the world was against me, that I'm rubbish, that 'I can't do this any more'," he said. "It just got on top of me. The self-doubt was huge."

For Vincent, leaving New Zealand seemed to be the solution. He played in the now defunct Indian Cricket League before he had a season in county cricket with Lancashire in 2009. Then he decided to step away from cricket entirely. "Getting away from the game was the right thing at the time, but, to be honest, things got worse and worse," he says.

"I felt like I'd lost my identity. You'd get to know people and they'd want to know about the cricket – being 29 years old, I sort of felt like, 'They must think that I'm weak because I've given up at 29, I couldn't handle the pressure'. They were happy to talk about it but it made me feel, 'Oh, what am I doing? I can't believe I have allowed this to happen'."

Vincent took on some building work, working on a friend's home, before he got a job tiling at the new BBC site in Salford. At first, it seemed to help but soon he realised it wasn't what he wanted to do. "After the 160th apartment I did at the BBC, I felt like 'I'm not really sure this is fulfilling my life'," he says. "But I did some more building work, more small stuff: I was digging a hole about a metre deep, I was halfway through it in the pissing rain and I thought – 'I'll just jump in the hole myself, this is not that great'."

A friend arranged for Vincent to return to New Zealand and play in Auckland. It proved to be a turning point. "I was like 'no way', but I went," he says. "When I got there I had to borrow pads, a bat, the gloves, I had two left shoes! I went to the training session, and I kept missing the ball. I was in tears: 'What am I doing? This is so embarrassing.' But I stayed positive, I hung in there and before you know it I got some good scores in the Twenty20."

Last season Vincent, whose wife is British and who has two children, travelled the UK with his tent, pitching it where he could and playing for a variety of teams, including a Cheshire club side, Lashings and the PCA Masters ("I had some great adventures: I asked locals where the best place to pitch a tent was – but normally I'd just jump over a fence... I was kicked off a few farms at 8am in the morning!"). The chance to see life from a different perspective, he says, was really helpful.: "Sometimes you get on the bus and you sit on the same seat every time but if you change seats you get a different angle. That's my theory in life – it's good to experience things differently, it's healthy."

Vincent, now a British citizen, is not alone at Sussex in having dealt with depression. He says he has spoken with Yardy about the condition. "He made a really good point," says Vincent. "When a fast bowler pulls a hamstring, he goes and gets treatment for it. It's the same sort of thing. When we have those bad little patches, it's an injury; you've got to get treatment for it."

The treatment available in the UK is first-class, Vincent says. He has worked with David Young, a performance consultant working with Sussex, and Kate Green, a personal development and welfare coach employed by the ECB and the PCA. "The ECB has been great," Vincent says. "Obviously the situation with Trescothick and Yardy has made them realise how important it is to have these professional people to deal with the situation. Hats off to the ECB."

He is also delighted to be at Sussex, a club where a positive culture has been hugely helpful. He says that he sees his future as being in the UK. "I've been given a wonderful opportunity," he says. "Most counties came back to me and said, 'Listen, you're sort of past it'. Hopefully I've got five or six years left in the tank." And, although you can never really escape depression – Vincent says that "It's an ongoing battle, day to day it's always there. There's only one way to deal with it and that's head on" – he clearly feels he is getting the better of it.

"It's almost taboo to talk about it," he says. "But it's not just cricketers [who suffer], that's the scariest thing. Everyone seems to go through it – it's normal. It's worth getting help but when you get out the other side – it's fucking cool."

Yardy suffers relapse

Mike Yardy, the England all-rounder who came home early from the World Cup suffering from depression, has had a relapse. Although Yardy began playing again for Sussex last month and resumed his role as captain, he left the field during the Twenty20 match against Middlesex on Friday night. The club is expected to issue a statement today.