Joan Smith: Depression is more deadly in the male

Share
Related Topics

In 2003, the German goalkeeper Robert Enke played a single match for the Turkish football club Fenerbahce. Enke was on loan from Barcelona for the opening match of the season, a home game against Istanbulspor. Fenerbahce lost 3-0 and furious fans rounded on the goalkeeper, hurling abuse, bottles and mobile phones. Clearly shocked, Enke left the club after only 13 days, protesting that he "had not deserved the hate they showed me". Despite this setback, Enke's star soon began to rise: he signed for Hanover and played for the German national team, raising expectations that he would represent his country at the world cup in South Africa next year. All that came to an end last week when he committed suicide by stepping in front of a train.

It was a violent and shocking death, and also carefully planned. Enke's team-mates did not know he suffered from severe depression, and he concealed his intentions from the small number of people who were aware of it. His wife said he was afraid that their adopted daughter, Leila, would be taken away if his illness became more widely known, fearing her loss all the more because their biological daughter, Lara, died of a heart defect three years ago. But she also said his illness predated the child's death, and his suicide highlights the dark side of a game which offers huge material rewards but very little in the way of emotional support.

Professional footballers are highly competitive, driven by a longing for adulation and a need to win. It isn't an environment in which it's easy to admit to anxiety and self-doubt, and clubs are more interested in results than mental health. Indeed it's obvious that the skills needed on the pitch – lightning responses, tribal loyalty, aggression – have disastrous consequences in the outside world: hence the parade of highly-paid footballers accused of speeding in expensive cars, brawling in nightclubs, and even rape. The protracted self-destruction of George Best, who went from being the golden boy of football to a frail alcoholic, demonstrates the absence of mentoring for young men who suddenly have the world at their feet.

Robert Enke chose such a dreadful way of dealing with his depression that his poor wife had to be sedated after identifying his body. When he walked on to the railway line, he punished himself, his family and his colleagues, some of whom broke down in public last week. Men often choose violent methods of suicide and they're much more likely to succeed than women; according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, men are around three times more likely to kill themselves and they're also more likely to use drugs and alcohol than seek professional help for depression. In the UK, suicide rates have been falling but the rate for men in 2007 was 16.8 per 100,000 of population, whereas for women it was only five per 100,000.

The public image of depression may have something to do with this. It's often seen as a female malady, suffered mainly by middle-aged women, and the idea that its symptoms include anger and irritability as well as self-hatred isn't sufficiently understood. The rewards of professional football are ludicrously high but fans are brutally intolerant of mistakes, as Enke discovered during his two weeks in Turkey. He may have feared failing again, especially after he was capped for the national team, and he clearly lived in terror of not being a good enough father.

When sport, business and the media idolise alpha males, we shouldn't be surprised if a handful of individuals would rather die than admit to being vulnerable men.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

My Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent
African elephants in Botswana photographed by television presenter Chris Packham  

We've made incredible progress, but there's still more to do to make sure we save the elephant

Hugo Campbell
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'