By Ian Peek
Saturday 10th October is World Mental Health day. The event focuses on celebrating education, awareness and advocacy for Mental Health issues and this year has the theme of “Dignity”.
If you didn’t know the above already, that’s why “Awareness” remains a central theme.
One person working to raise awareness of mental health issues is Anthony Purcell – basketball star and player for the Manchester Giants. Anthony gave a full interview to the Manchester Evening News (MEN) earlier in the year, but recognises that voices like his must continue to be heard. He spoke with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) students on Wednesday, giving a candid account of his own experiences.
Anthony was raised in East Manchester and recounts the bare realities of 10 years ago, “Mental health didn’t exist back then; people just got by. You were brought up to be hard – tough. Mental health was difficult to embrace against that background.”
Anthony was labelled a “naughty child” in school, having regular run-ins with teachers and occasional ones with police. He was preparing to play basketball for the England under-16s team when a torn ligament cut him from the team, but recovered in time for his first professional season with Everton.
Depression kicked in more seriously during his first season. “As a new player, you’re going in with seasoned veterans with 8-10 years experience of basketball. I regularly felt out-foxed during practise.”
Medication helped his moods to feel more neutral, but stopped him attaining the same focus on the court. It was harder to perform. He gave up basketball after his first professional season, only retaining the confidence to play locally.
He recognises the privilege of playing professional sport, “You’re being paid to do what you love,” but speaks openly about its pressures, “Everyone wants to do it. You’re constantly aware there are five or six other guys waiting in the wings for your opportunity.”
Whilst there is regret in his early decision to quit, circumstances at the time didn’t seem to offer him feasible alternatives. Anxiety and depression played a significant role in this part of Anthony’s career, ultimately driving him from it, “It’s difficult when the thing you love takes you to a place of pain.”
At 17, Anthony had already abandoned the career he’d sought to begin. “I drank a lot. I didn’t want to be here. Aspergers and autism made it feel like I didn’t fit in.”
Anthony speaks throughout the talk about his autism, though only received this diagnosis last week (aged 24).
Gradually, Anthony began to play again. With “Moss Side Tropics”, he played in a different way; playing just for fun, alongside people who had been in gangs and prisons. After around three years on anxiety and depression medication he played at Warrington and received a call from the Manchester Giants. At their training sessions he met Jeff Jones; a coach he once knew as a junior basketballer. He was invited to play for the Giants in September, and has been with them for four years.
He has been off and on medication during those four years, but this time spoke frankly with his coach and team-mates prior to re-starting treatments for the condition. Anthony is vocal about how supportive his team and coach have been since his disclosure, and the significant role this continued support now has for him.
This supportive reaction is part of what encouraged him to speak with the MEN earlier in the year and why he urges others to come forward, joining their voices to the ongoing mental health conversation.
“When your mental health goes; everything goes,” he offers. “It doesn’t matter about your condition physically, it takes over everything.” He praises his team for their acceptance and willingness to deal with this.
His own efforts to raise awareness glimpse a world where mental health conditions can be accepted, worked with, and spoken about openly. A world which is our own, already embracing this. A very different world from 10 years ago.
Ian is an MA Creative Writing Student. He loves words and trying to arrange them into an agreeable order. He has also been affected by MH issues, including depression and an episode of psychosis where he was sectioned for a short time. He believes MH issues can affect anyone, and form part of a conversation worth having. You can follow him on Twitter @IanPeek_Write