Mitch Clark’s Mental Courage

The football community is about to embark on a journey not often undertaken. For a player to acknowledge mental illness during their career is rare. For a player to acknowledge mental illness, leave his club and then wish to return for the very next season is even more so. This is the story of Mitch Clark. I do not pretend to intimately know his situation. I also do not understand the negative sentiment that seems to currently surround his situation. There are two issues at play here. The first is the general public’s misconception of mental illness, and in particular, depression. The second is the sensationalist manner in which we, as a society, report the news. Together, this is an incredibly volatile mix.

Clark left the Melbourne Football Club last season, citing depression as the reason behind his need to leave the game. At the time, this was warmly received by not only the football community, but the wider community as well. As it should be. A young man suffering a mental illness is all too common in this country. When a high-profile sportsman shows the courage to publicly outline his own personal battle with depression, it is such a rarity that we simply must support. No question. The benefit here is not only for Mitch, but for all young men suffering from mental illness. Our sportspeople (most of them, anyway) are considered to be among our most influential role models within society. When one of them makes such a significant statement, it is a catalyst for positive change.

Wayne Schwass and Nathan Thompson are two of the better known footballers to have suffered from depression and since become advocates for various mental health initiatives. In many ways, these men have paved the way for future generations. Thompson’s situation bares most resemblance to what Clark is experiencing. In 2004, Thompson admitted to the media that he had been suffering from clinical depression, a saga that raised awareness of the condition. By the time 2005 rolled around, he had changed clubs. The move from Hawthorn to North Melbourne has largely been attributed to him needing a fresh start as part of the ongoing treatment of his illness. Clark finds himself in an eerily similar position.

Recent commentary has hinted towards Mitch Clark ‘owing’ the Melbourne Football Club. The truth is that Mitch Clark simply had no choice in leaving last season. His condition had become such, that he felt he could no longer participate in a football club environment. In fact, to do so would become detrimental to his own personal health. Depression is a serious mental health condition. The decision was taken out of Clark’s hands. His condition dictated what he would do. Constantly battling injury and with the spotlight of his football club firmly on him, Clark sought help. This needs to be applauded. I know this will sound crazy, but sometimes, a man’s wellbeing should actually take precedence over draft concessions, trade value and his perceived with on a football field.

Football journalists are paid to express their opinion on such matters. But, does expressing that opinion mean it should be done in such a way, that it provides further obstacles to a potential comeback? There appears to be no doubt that as part of Clark’s ongoing treatment, football has a role to play. To propose that he must return to his former club because he somehow ‘owes’ them, is however, preposterous. As was the case for Nathan Thompson, perhaps the most critical piece of the puzzle, is in fact a fresh beginning. Some supporters of his two former clubs, another club in which he deserted at the last-minute, and from the wider football community show next to know sympathy for a man whom they see as using his condition as an excuse to leave an uncompetitive football team in which he was the star attraction, and therefore the player under most pressure. Anybody with a close link to somebody suffering from mental illness would find these claims downright offensive.

I have never met Mitch Clark, but he seems a genuine type of guy. He seems to have taken his life back and sounds as though he may be ready to return to the AFL. Surely, he needs all the support he can get from the football community to ensure that this can happen. For a sport which has such high designs on claiming the best ‘off-field’ support networks for players, assistance in this instance is indisputable. Personally, I see Mitch Clark as a courageous being. Taking those first steps to betterment must have been incredibly difficult. He would have been fully ware of the misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental health that sadly, still exist. To be truly courageous, means to live your life being true to yourself. Mitch Clark is doing that and he deserves greater understanding.

About Joe Moore

Learned the art of the drop-punt from Derek Kickett as Jamie Lawson watched on. And thus, a Swan for life. @joedmoore1979

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    A real hard 1 , Joe your article is very well thought out , extremely well written but it is my understanding that the dees gave him enormous support last year so I do see the side of the argument that he owes and at the very least , Melbourne FC should be given some significant composation thanks , Joe

  2. Gregor Lewis says

    Well written piece Joe. But unfortunately too reliant on some false comparisons.

    Mitch Clarke has been physically unable to perform for over two years, due to serious orthopoedic injuries.

    Neither Thompson or Schwass had to deal with that issue.

    Not that their issues with mental health were not serious enough, but they did not keep them from focussing on a professional outlet, with appropriate support and the best effort they could produce on their part.

    Mitch Clarke hasn’t had that outlet. That opportunity. While I don’t dispute Clarke’s effort & endeavour on the park, compared to what Thompson & Schwass were able to give before moving on, it is – through no fault of Clarke’s – a pittance.

    I am surprised that a player so afflicted could make such a quick turnaround. And I am even more wary that such a turnaround comes with conditions attached.

    Mitch Clarke’s trigger for his condition is undoubtedly his prolonged physical infirmity. If he is physically well enough to even attempt to prepare for an elite level comeback, then he should do so with the club to which he was signed and compassionately looked after, ultimately selflessly released by, until his original contract terms are fulfilled.

    Nothing else should be entertained. No false expectations harvested. If Mitch Clarke is not well enough to return to Melbourne, then he is not well enough to return to the AFL. He should be given to understand that as compassionately and supportively as possible.

    Mental illness properly diagnosed and comprehensively treated does not abrogate responsibility. Mitch Clarke’s first & foremost responsibility is to himself of course, but if he feels able to entertain a comeback, then he has to understand that once that decision is made, his responsibility is to Melbourne.

    No illusions. Just support – which Melbourne have gone out of their way to provide throughout.

    grl

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Malcolm and Gregor. I feel that some of the points you have made Gregor, have confirmed my reasons fro writing this piece in the first place. We are certainly coming from different perspectives here.

    The scepticism you display towards Clark’s initial diagnosis and his current condition is typical of the responses I have been reading over the past week or so. Without having any knowledge of his current mental state or treatment pathway, I cannot understand how anybody can make such a statement. Do we not take people on their word anymore?

    Clinical depression by definition means that there is a major ongoing malfunction. This is often a lifelong affliction. I highly doubt that his physical infirmity was the trigger for his condition. The truth is nobody in the general public knows what has caused his condition. His physical wellbeing is not the issue.

    The mental health experts that are working with Clark will have carefully constructed plans in place for him. If they deem that a return to Melbourne would be detrimental to his health, then the football world needs to accept that. I am not saying that is the case, just that as a football community, we need to support his decision in what he wants to do in the future.

  4. Gregor Lewis says

    Sorry Joe, you misunderstand me.

    I do not doubt Clarke’s diagnosis.
    I am wary of the stories emerging of his conditional desire to return to elite competition only.

    If he is well enough to contemplate a return, that return must be to fulfil the contract he was compassionately released from to allow him to best seek treatment.

    Anyone who believes they can accurately assess a comparative working environment within an industry of virtually identical workplaces is kidding themselves.

    That’s why I wrote what I wrote, in the way that I wrote it.

    It should be up to the professionals to assess whether Mitch Clarke is well enough to contemplate a return to elite competitive sport. After that, the responsibility – as I noted originally – lies with him.

    Given we are discussing this and Clarke’s publicly stated desire to return, then you have to assume the professional approval has been achieved.

    Conditional approval in Mitch Clarke’s specific situation is extremely unprofessional and an utterly irresponsible enabling of an unethical choice. Encouraging an abrogation of responsibility.

    Nothing any responsible mental health professional should be party to.

    Otherwise, it seems to me to be a case of enabling an acknowledged mentally fragile individual, with a clinical diagnosis of Depression to resume in a virtually identical environment, but only where he has a better chance to be part of a winning team.

    There’s a difference between enabling & effectively treating.

    grl

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