Shane Watson has made the mental health of Australia’s cricketers his No 1 priority as he takes over as the new players’ boss.
In the space of a week, Australia has had Glenn Maxwell and Nic Maddinson stand down from national teams due to struggles with their mental health, and Watson says it is the game’s responsibility to try to limit their burden.
Watson was on Monday night rubber-stamped as the new president — face and voice — of the Australian Cricketers Association and declared cricket would never again tear itself apart like it did during the last pay war.
This collaborative approach has been illustrated by Cricket Australia and the ACA combining forces on mental health research, with a current survey — almost completed — aiming to increase the knowledge bank of the playing group and their wellbeing.
Data from third-party mental health consultants Orygen has found that about a quarter of the elite cricketing population is affected by mental health difficulties, putting the sport on par with the wider population.
Watson — a friend and teammate of Maxwell, Maddinson, Moises Henriques and Sean Abbott, cricketers who have in recent years taken time out for mental health — has lived the life of the cricketer in the fishbowl: the scrutiny, the pressure, the months on the road away from family, the mental torture of form and selection.
The 38-year-old says mental health is no longer a taboo subject and says there is plenty cricket can do to best manage and look after the headspace of players.
“There’s no question, this is a huge thing for me and something that the ACA and Cricket Australia need to work together to be able to support the players, as much as we have to, and try and limit the burden,” Watson said.
“It’s not just in cricket … it’s wider society: mental health is coming to the fore, as it should.
“Beforehand it was just shut behind closed doors, whereas now people are actually talking about it which is a great thing and it needs to happen.
“But the support needs to be there, to be able to limit the chances of one of our best players needing to have time away to be able to get back to where he or she needs to from a mental health point of view. When you’re playing non-stop and you don’t have breaks, and especially when you get to a certain age as well and you start thinking about what life is potentially going to look like when you finish playing, those are the times when the support needs to be there, even more so.”
Watson’s appointment as ACA president is similar to the AFL players’ association model, where a prominent player in Patrick Dangerfield is the president and face of the organisation.