Why Sport needs more People like Mitch Clark

Geelong Cats ruckman Mitch Clark is nothing but an inspiration. Very publically he has suffered and fought depression, the good days and the bad, and has never shied away from his illness. In a world which still, even with all the work done and words said to us, shuns mental illness and its sufferers, Mitch Clark has been a beacon of strength and a symbol for sufferers out there that it is not only okay to speak up and share your story, but be vocal in the world.

After Geelong smashed Collingwood, Clark was pictured in tears, walking into a side room with head coach Chris Scott. The day after, Clark posted on his Facebook page that “Depression makes very little sense and rears its head whenever it chooses and unfortunately last night was one of those times.” Clark is not trying to make himself out to be an example of how you can “beat depression”, rather someone who is always going to battle, always going to struggle to stay on top. He says so himself, “I’m nowhere near ‘cured’ and am still learning how to best deal with my dark days.”

What I think is the most pertinent message to take from Mitch Clark’s story is that everyone can learn from his experiences. The highest paid player at Melbourne, he felt the pressure to perform, and accepted when he could not take it anymore. This lead to a premature retirement last year on the back of playing only 14 games in 2013 and 2014. Any young person who has played sport has at some stage felt the pressure to perform. Any sign of perceived ‘weakness’ is pushed down, and unfortunately there is not the acceptance of mental illness there should be. Mental health is not a weakness. Dr. Thelma Dye Holmes has been quoted as saying, “Mental health has a stigma that is tied into weakness and is absolutely the antithesis of what athletes want to portray.” This is the world in which Mitch Clark has stood up and should be seen as an inspiration.

As a club Geelong should also be congratulated for their handling of Clark. The situation after the Collingwood game was treated with dignity and respect, and showed that as an organisation they are more than just winning games. It was a heartwarming scenario over the weekend, and I hope Mitch Clark continues to be seen as an icon and the type of role model sport deserves. I wish him well as he continues to battle depression and face his dark days.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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