What’s the story?
In his autobiography titled Speed Demons (serialised by The Daily Mirror), former England seamer Steve Harmison has opened up on his battle with depression. Revisiting a troubled phase when the inner ‘demons’ threatened to engulf his mind, the 38-year old admitted to contemplating about harming himself during his heydays in which he was the world’s leading fast bowler.
Harmison wrote, “Fast forward to the great summer of 2004, when I was number one in the rankings for the Test bowlers. It was the same story -- only worse. I was in no position to celebrate. I was in no state to do anything. England won all seven Tests but as that summer went on I could feel the brightness growing darker.
“The horrible truth was those same feelings, which had consumed me on trips abroad, were overpowering me again -- and this time it had nothing to do with being away from home.
“The demons had not bothered to travel. They had come to get me at home, in the middle of a very successful English summer. I spoke to the England team doctor Peter Gregory and saw a psychologist. I was asked: ‘Have you ever considered harming yourself?’ That frightened the hell out of me. The honest answer was ‘Maybe’. It was clear I was clinically depressed and medication would be the way forward. I've been on it ever since.”
Since making his international debut during the 2002 Trent Bridge Test against India, Harmison has played 63 Tests and 58 ODIs apart from featuring in a couple of T20Is as well. He was at his best in the game’s traditional format which brought him 226 wickets at an average of 31.82 including 8 five-wicket hauls.
The heart of the matter
During the summer of 2004 (in August), Harmison found himself on top of the ICC Test rankings for bowlers after amassing 875 rating points. Reaching the summit was a just reward for his exploits against New Zealand and West Indies.
The right-armer’s 38 scalps from 7 matches played an instrumental role in England whitewashing both visiting teams.
Harmison went on to feature in England’s historic Ashes triumphs of 2005 and 2009 before bowing out of the international arena. Since his retirement, he has been a part of Sky Sports’ expert panel and extended his purview to football by becoming manager of Ashington AFC.
Parallels from history
Apart from Harmison, the likes of Marcus Trescothick and Jonathan Trott have also publicly documented their struggles with depression. Due to their stress-related illness, the batting duo had to return home from gruelling tours of India (2006) and Australia (2013) respectively.
As Harmison himself alluded to, depression can affect the psyche of anybody irrespective of his profession or stature. By winning the most important battle of his life and having the mental fortitude to publicly reveal his struggles, the cricketer has shown that depression is just an illness like any other and it is very much possible to overcome one’s inner demons.