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Tom Phillip - mental health and rugby

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Post by RDW on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 2:25 am

I know there a vast number of podcasts out there just now, but the Get After It with Nashy podcast interview with former Scotland player Tom Phillip has really hit hard and I thought I would share it on here.

Just as a warning - there is some very frank and open conversation in this about some real extreme mental health issues, and it may be a difficult listen for some

https://getafterit.uk/podcast

For me there were two main points in all this:

1 - Tom's physical condition and rugby career
2 - His mental health issues.

With both items clearly inexorably linked.

On the first point, we as Scotland fans knew he had a lot of injuries in his earlier years and really felt for him and the national team that his career was cut short so young. We were crying out for a top class centre at the time and he was an absolute freak of nature - incredibly physical with real pace. He managed an entire 6N for Scotland in 2004 but was never seen on a professional rugby pitch again.

What is clear from the interview is just how horrific his injuries really were, and he was playing through considerable pain and what should have been career ending injures for a very long time. It later transpired that he played an entire 6N basically with a completely ruined back and groin. I'm staggered he didn't get a life changing injury from it. He even went on the tour to Australia later that summer, which was cut short by a knee injury (which probably saved him in the long run as it meant he could get his back and groin looked at, which ultimately ended his career). There's definitely a duty of care question to be raised here about how Scottish rugby let him play through this. You could say that Tom hid the reality of the situation (which he admits that he did) but this is so extreme I'm amazed this wasn't picked up as a serious issue at the time. This basically led him to becoming addicted to pain killers, which he needed to use for every day life never mind playing rugby.


The second point was a really tough listen - since around 10 years old and to this day he has had very severe mental health issues. This isn't really the place to delve into the details of what he's been through and is currently going through, but for me as a rugby fan it really brought home just how little we know about what's going on with the pro players that we spend our lives watching and commenting on. I remember the 2004 6N and you had no idea watching him that he was going through hell mentally (and physically!), and had some really severe issues. He openly admits that he was in such a dark place in the final game against Ireland that he was so angry that all he was focussed on was hurting BoD (which he's not proud of).


So to try and summarise, you've really got to feel for the guy as he's been through hell, and continues to have issues. What's most striking is I bet most of his friends and people that he played rugby with will be shocked about how bad things really were/are - he said himself he has tried to hide it for so long. It's good to hear that he's had a few conversation with Jonny Wilkinson which seems to have been helpful.  From a Scottish rugby point of view this is a hot topic currently with a few ex and current pro players opening up about their mental health issues combined with professional sport. It would be incredibly sad if the experience that these guys have had isn't put to some good use and positive changes made to try and ensure we never see this kind of thing happening again.

Finally - there are lots of resources out there if anyone reading this is struggling and is looking for help. I'm a qualified mental health first aider and these are the main links I would refer people to in the first instance, as well as speaking to your GP or other relevant health professional. If anyone wants some more specific resources or advice on places to get help please drop me a PM.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.thecalmzone.net/

If you're going through a mental health crisis

https://www.samaritans.org/

Phone 116 123

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Post by GeordieFalcon on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 9:02 am

Im afraid this whole Covid debacle is going to cause immense problems with Mental health away from only rugby...

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Post by No 7&1/2 on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 9:31 am

It's such a societal issue. Mental illness is still portrayed as something to be ashamed of. It's great that guys in the spotlight are talking about it as it'll help more people seek help when they need to.

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Post by king_carlos on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 2:03 pm

People are slowly but surely becoming more open about mental illness but there is a long way to go. Sportsmen and women are definitely speaking publicly more and more. Matt Smith's very frank interviews after moving way from rugby were tough but important reading.

I run a takeaway coffee/sandwich kiosk and yesterday a regular came by looking very down trodden. I didn't want to push him but asked how his day was going. he said he was struggling a bit and had taken a day off work to see his CMHT nurse as he was going through a period of depression due to suffering from bipolar disorder. Having had my own ongoing mental health issue that have been diagnosed as both schizophrenic and more recently schizoaffective (illnesses with closely linked symptoms to bipolar disorder) I mentioned that I'd had a tough period with auditory hallucinations myself over the last month or so with the stress (a common trigger for all mental health issues) of the current situation. That level of candidness about mental health between two people who are effectively strangers would have felt alien to me just a few years ago. Progress has been made but the stigma still very much exists.

The infrastructure for mental health care in the UK is overrun. The CMHT, counselors and psychiatrists I've seen in the course of my treatment have been excellent but due to the NHS being underfunded for a decade they are lacking in numbers hence there are usually very long waiting lists for care.

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Post by GeordieFalcon on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 3:13 pm

KC,

I agree its improving but not maybe as rapidly as it should. Up here in the north its even less spoken about. Whilst we are moving away from the stereotype northern shipbuilding image, i still think not enough people talk about "soft / weak things" like mental health, if you catch my meaning.

i have unfortunately been around mental health issues within my family and indeed two members of my immediate family have taken their own lives through it, in the past.

However, on a positive note...it is encouraging to see a few more little facebook posts from people you might not expect it saying eg " If suicide ever crosses your mind, just know i would rather listen to your story than attend your funeral" etc etc

So maybe the hard work is getting through slowly...

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Post by king_carlos on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 5:43 pm

GF,

Change on the societal side is still too slow I'd agree but I have certainly seen improvements.

I was fortunate to have parents who were very understanding of mental health issues. My dad came from a large family. He lost a sister to suicide very young and had a younger brother who ran away from home around 16 amid mental health problems and 40 years on has only ever made contact through the Samaritans when they have contacted him on behalf of my grandma (his mother). As the second eldest sibling in a large family and being old enough compared to those two siblings that he basically helped raise them that had a profound impact on my dad. He also spent 40+ years in the army so witnessed many friends and colleagues  succumb to PTSD and mental health problems. My early diagnosis and treatment is undoubtedly indebted to my dad previous struggles and the knowledge, empathy that gave him. He helped immensely when I first spoke to my parents about suffering from hallucinations. I just wish I'd spoken to them earlier.

The overrun mental health care in the NHS means that help from family becomes so important. Whether that help is forthcoming is usually a function of little more than luck and affluence though. Luck in terms of whether your family are around and understanding. Affluence plays a role in that as it's well known that those from more affluent back grounds are likely to come from a stable home. Affluence also in the simple things such as being able to afford to take a break from work if required for your care. Or perhaps accessing private counselling due to the long wait times for care.

Even affluent families aren't always understanding though. I had a close friend at University who suffered with depression following trauma. They started taking anti-depressants and their health improved immeasurably over a period of 6 months. As with many anti-depressants a side effect of the medication they were on was potential weight gain, which my friend struggled with on the medication. Their mum was a dentist and her advice was, "stop taking the pills, lose weight, toughen up". I was genuinely dumbfounded. She'd been a dentist for 30 odd years, NHS employed, healthcare worker and her advice was to stop taking medication that a specialist in a different field had prescribed. Astounding ignorance and unsurprisingly the advice didn't help.

Those who suffer mental health problems young tend to develop the ability to hide them very well which can eventually be a life threatening ability. Hence the horribly common phrase, "they were the last person I would have guessed were struggling". Better education from a young age is needed on the issue.

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Post by RDW on Thu 08 Oct 2020, 10:55 pm

Some good chat on here guys - again helps break down barriers to hear people talking about issues more openly.

In my mental health first aider training there was 15 of us and every single person had a story to tell, whether about their own experience or their friends or family. Something like that hopefully makes people feel they're less alone in the things they're going through.

going back to Tom Phillip, he said how could he try and tell people he had issues when he was a beast of an athlete, a real physical player and as 'manly' a man as you could get? At one point he said that his mental health issues were so bad they were having physical manifestations, in that he was blacking out and just completely away with it. He tried to pull out of a game (was rugby league at the time) but people thought it was because he was on steroids and wanted to avoid a drugs test, so he played anyway and basically blacked out every tackle. With attitudes like that you can understand why people struggle to speak out!

I have a friend who has been encouraging his partner to speak to her GP as she's been struggling for a long time. She finally plucked up the courage to do so and was in and out of the GPs in minutes - "here's some pills, here's a leaflet about counscilling, see you in 2 weeks" kind of thing, whereas what she really needed was a proper chat and support to work out what to do next. Sadly that GP probably had to do that as they had far too many people to see that day.

I did a press-up challenge earlier in the year raising money from the Samaritans and mental health charity in Australia - that also opened up conversations, with some colleagues contacting me to tell me their stories out of the blue. Every little helps!

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Post by bsando on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 8:00 am

Anxiety has been an on and off problem for me since I was 18. I had a massive anxiety attack after completing "schoolies" (end of high school 3-4 day party) in Australia. I didn't even know what anxiety was then so I thought I was dying and phoned a mate to help me get to hospital. A few diazepam from the doc later and a very good nights sleep and I thought I was all good. But the weeks and months later, attacks kept creeping back and I had another bad one in Scotland and was in a spiral of anxiety and depression all Christmas in 2006. It wasn't until my aunt helped me figure out what I had that I was able to start "mending myself".

It's still something that kept popping up in my twenties though, always triggered by an impending task that seemed daunting or sometimes a trip abroad would trigger anxiety. Luckily I've found ways that help me to deal with it and learnt to not feel panicked when it starts to occur. Running or intense aerobic exercise always helps me feel better (temporarily) so I have anxiety to thank for my physical health in some ways as I've formed good habits of exercise and diet. But not letting brain fog (where your brain is so anxious and stressed you get a foggy head and it becomes hard to concentrate and not think about why you're out of sorts) scare you too much and to remember it will gradually go away as your brain settles down was a break through for me. I started having much shorter periods of anxiety because I was breaking the cycle quicker, remaining calm and telling myself "this will go away soon, don't let it beat you."

It is horrible and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. If the information that is available today was as readily available back in 2006 I feel like I would have been able to get on top of it a lot quicker. I spent a lot of time bottling it up in my twenties and it was tough. So when my mates say kids are overreacting to stuff and making a big deal of mental health problems I always tell them that isn't true and it is good that kids are talking about it and letting their parents know. The dream would be able to talk about anxiety and depression like a common cold to anyone and it is getting there slowly. Employers in particular need to be more sympathetic and not make their staff feel they can't talk to them about mental health issues.

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Post by RDW on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 8:22 am

Thanks for sharing bsando - it's an interesting point that you're looking at how things are perceived now and wondering if you wouldn't have had such a hard time of you were part of the current generation!

Things are definitely significantly improved now, but as always there's a long way to go. The fact that the future King of the UK has put mental health so high on the agenda says it all.

Personally I've made the decision just to openly talk about it! Luckily I've not had any issues (so far) but for our entire relationship (15+ years) my wife has had pretty serious issues. The holy trinity of depression, anxiety and then PTSD due to being caught up in one of the London terrorist attacks (that was a really grim period). She's up front and honest with people so I follow that lead.

One thing from my point of view is there isn't much support or guidance for those who are trying to help their loved ones through difficult times. I've been absolutely winging it most of the time, and during the PTSD period I was completely out of my depth. It was only when I get formal mental health first aid training a few years ago that I learnt the best way of dealing with things. Luckily it was pretty much what I'd already been doing!

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Post by GeordieFalcon on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 9:17 am

Anxiety is another massive area that i think is completely under the radar so to speak, in comparison to other areas of mental health.

I confess my ignorance of Anxiety until i met my wife, who suffers this, sometimes quite extreme.

As a 6'1 17st, rugby player / martial artist, i'm a very confident assured individual, and very strong willed, who regularly performs presentations to large numbers of people. However im one whos degree educated and very sensitive to mental health issues having been around them through my life with certain members of my family.

So when my wife first explained her issues with anxiety, i couldnt quite understand it. The feeling / panic of not wanting to walk into a room with people in, or anything that would bring attention to her, or even just making a phone call seemed quite alien to me. But as we have gone through the years i began to see just how this affected her and realized just how big of an issue this can be. Thinking back, i also began to recognize these traits in members of my family

It does make me think if i was ignorant of it...then there must be a large majority who are also.

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Post by RDW on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 9:38 am

Geordie - from our experience I'd say anxiety is by far the most debilitating in terms of every day life, so I completely sympathise with you. This isn't downplaying depression in any way, and it entirely depends on the person, but she's become quite good at 'putting on a brave face' with other people, but it's very difficult to hide anxiety.

I'd fairly confidently say that anxiety completely dominates our lives and heavily influences numerous decisions and activities throughout the day. When PTSD was thrown into the equation it was hugely difficult. She's incredibly determined though and refuses to let it define our lives even if it massively influences it - we wouldn't have travelled the world, moved to London then Australia otherwise.

Most of the coverage on Covid 19 has been about physical issues - the mental toll on a huge number of people has been enormous, particularly those who already had issues. Isolation really isn't good for mental health, neither is being told it's not safe to go outside!


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Post by BigGee on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 9:39 am

I know that this forum is not necessarily a reflection of the population in general but it is interesting how many people here seem to be able to relate to these issues and also be very understanding of them and happy to talk about them.

That is actually very re-assuring that we are making some progress.

As i see in my work time and time again, physical and mental health are inexplicably linked and historically one was largely accepted and the other not.

I have been a nurse for 30 years and working in my current role as a Site manager for 20 and I am largely responsible for the flow of patients through the hospital. Almost every night nowadays we get children and adolescents coming into the hospital in some kind of mental health crisis, some of them actively suicidal. 20 years that sort of thing was pretty much unheard of. The really surprising thing is just how young some of them are and how serious is there intention.

Having watched my own kids grow up and seen them have a few wobbles and hopefully been able to support them through those moments has made me realise just how common it is and How important it is as a parent that you take their concerns seriously and give them the time, space and support to work their way through them.

I wonder how many children of my generation and older, who were not encouraged to express themselves and bottled things up are now paying the price for the attitudes of the day.

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Post by GeordieFalcon on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 10:06 am

RDW wrote:Geordie - from our experience I'd say anxiety is by far the most debilitating in terms of every day life, so I completely sympathise with you. This isn't downplaying depression in any way, and it entirely depends on the person, but she's become quite good at 'putting on a brave face' with other people, but it's very difficult to hide anxiety.

I'd fairly confidently say that anxiety completely dominates our lives and heavily influences numerous decisions and activities throughout the day. When PTSD was thrown into the equation it was hugely difficult. She's incredibly determined though and refuses to let it define our lives even if it massively influences it - we wouldn't have travelled the world, moved to London then Australia otherwise.

Most of the coverage on Covid 19 has been about physical issues - the mental toll on a huge number of people has been enormous, particularly those who already had issues. Isolation really isn't good for mental health, neither is being told it's not safe to go outside!

To be fair to her, most of the time its not so extreme, but she does have her moments, where literally picking up a phone to call the bank or anything ofiicial...and she's in bits.

Dont get me started on this whole Covid debacle of management. The local councils and Government should be hauled over the coals for the way they have gone about this. Ive been preaching exactly what you have said...they have forgotten about mental health...but also the other big killers such as cancer etc. People arent getting treatment or diagnosis, and that causes further mental problems not to mention the loss of family members and financial implications.

The knock on from this over the next few years will be MUCH bigger than Covid ever was.

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Post by GeordieFalcon on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 10:07 am

BigGee wrote:I know that this forum is not necessarily a reflection of the population in general but it is interesting how many people here seem to be able to relate to these issues and also be very understanding of them and happy to talk about them.

That is actually very re-assuring that we are making some progress.

As i see in my work time and time again, physical and mental health are inexplicably linked and historically one was largely accepted and the other not.

I have been a nurse for 30 years and working in my current role as a Site manager for 20 and I am largely responsible for the flow of patients through the hospital. Almost every night nowadays we get children and adolescents coming into the hospital in some kind of mental health crisis, some of them actively suicidal. 20 years that sort of thing was pretty much unheard of. The really surprising thing is just how young some of them are and how serious is there intention.

Having watched my own kids grow up and seen them have a few wobbles and hopefully been able to support them through those moments has made me realise just how common it is and How important it is as a parent that you take their concerns seriously and give them the time, space and support to work their way through them.

I wonder how many children of my generation and older, who were not encouraged to express themselves and bottled things up are now paying the price for the attitudes of the day.

How much of this is through social media also? And i wonder how much is Social media having a negative effect aswell!

Have you seen the documentary on Netflix - The Social Dilemma. Its very much about what we are addressing here...its worth a watch.

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Post by RDW on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 10:09 am

Biggee - through all the squabbles and wumming it's discussions like this that always restores my faith in the forum! There are some really decent people on here and I'm proud that we have an environment where these type of things can be discussed.

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Post by GeordieFalcon on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 10:18 am

RDW wrote:Biggee - through all the squabbles and wumming it's discussions like this that always restores my faith in the forum! There are some really decent people on here and I'm proud that we have an environment where these type of things can be discussed.

Thats why i stay on this forum. Its a good mixed group of people...who have differing opinions on most things rugby, but generally show up well in the things that really matter like this thread.

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Post by BigGee on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 10:20 am

Absolutely agree RDW, that is what has attracted me to this place and what keeps me here.

There is something about rugby and rugby clubs though. Despite all the drink related and other poor behaviour that went on there, they were never just about the rugby, life was talked about a lot as well.

I have not been near a rugby club in years, like most people, I have got on with my life and other priorities have taken over, I still love the game but do so from a distance now.

Interestingly though, the people I do keep in touch with from that important developmental time in my life when I was young and largely carefree are all people who i meet through playing rugby, still good friends after all these years and able to pick up in a minute even when we have not crossed paths for years.

Rugby values is a bit of an over rated term sometimes, especially when related to professional sport, but there is something in it undoubtedly.

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Post by RDW on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 10:23 am

BigGee wrote:Absolutely agree RDW, that is what has attracted me to this place and what keeps me here.

There is something about rugby and rugby clubs though. Despite all the drink related and other poor behaviour that went on there, they were never just about the rugby, life was talked about a lot as well.

I have not been near a rugby club in years, like most people, I have got on with my life and other priorities have taken over, I still love the game but do so from a distance now.

Interestingly though, the people I do keep in touch with from that important developmental time in my life when I was young and largely carefree are all people who i meet through playing rugby, still good friends after all these years and able to pick up in a minute even when we have not crossed paths for  years.

Rugby values is a bit of an over rated term sometimes, especially when related to professional sport, but there is something in it undoubtedly.

Excellent point, and good to bring things back on topic for a rugby forum!

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Post by BigGee on Fri 09 Oct 2020, 10:24 am

GeordieFalcon wrote:
BigGee wrote:I know that this forum is not necessarily a reflection of the population in general but it is interesting how many people here seem to be able to relate to these issues and also be very understanding of them and happy to talk about them.

That is actually very re-assuring that we are making some progress.

As i see in my work time and time again, physical and mental health are inexplicably linked and historically one was largely accepted and the other not.

I have been a nurse for 30 years and working in my current role as a Site manager for 20 and I am largely responsible for the flow of patients through the hospital. Almost every night nowadays we get children and adolescents coming into the hospital in some kind of mental health crisis, some of them actively suicidal. 20 years that sort of thing was pretty much unheard of. The really surprising thing is just how young some of them are and how serious is there intention.

Having watched my own kids grow up and seen them have a few wobbles and hopefully been able to support them through those moments has made me realise just how common it is and How important it is as a parent that you take their concerns seriously and give them the time, space and support to work their way through them.

I wonder how many children of my generation and older, who were not encouraged to express themselves and bottled things up are now paying the price for the attitudes of the day.

How much of this is through social media also? And i wonder how much is Social media having a negative effect aswell!

Have you seen the documentary on Netflix - The Social Dilemma. Its very much about what we are addressing here...its worth a watch.

Social media does play a part, good and bad in all of this.

Young people find out about how to do bad things to themselves on it, but also find means of accessing help.

Personally, I am glad that i did grow up without social media and the internet, but I am also aware that it can't now be uninvented, so we have to just learn ways of living with and managing it.

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