Saturday, 2 Jul 2022

Ronnie O’Sullivan health: World champion on ‘snooker depression’ – condition explained

Ronnie O'Sullivan clashes with Mark Allen during tense game

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The gesture in question was made whilst O’Sullivan was walking back to his seat whilst playing head to head with David Gilbert. Clearly demonstrating the toll the game has on him, in another infamous incident the star had to be taken to hospital after trashing his dressing room in the Crucible, causing him to suffer a breakdown. It is due to these struggles that the successful player sometimes wishes he never took up the sport in the first place.

In a throwback interview in 2019, O’Sullivan said: “Snooker is a really hard sport, and if I had my time over again I definitely wouldn’t choose snooker as a sport to pursue.

“A lot of people have said over the years, ‘he’s up and down, he’s unstable’, and I’m not. I always call it ‘snooker depression’.

“Playing, competing and enjoying wasn’t enough. I had to win. If I didn’t play snooker, I would never have to take any [prescribed antidepressant] medication ever.”

Reflecting on an incredibly different period in his life, where he was struggling mentally, O’Sullivan continued to say: “I was nine, 10 months clean out the Priory, I’d had my best snooker season ever; I’d won six out of 11 events. If you were to base success on external things, it was the most successful season any snooker player had had.

“Even winning tournaments isn’t solving my problems, what is it, why am I feeling like this?

“I had these episodes where I’d just disappear, I’d run off and people would think he’s having a tantrum, it’s just I can’t cope sometimes, it’s not that I can’t cope with snooker, I just can’t cope with normal life sometimes.”

Speaking out about his inner turmoil again in 2021, O’Sullivan expressed his concerns about the unhealthy nature of snooker. He continued to say: “I don’t think it’s healthy to be in a room hitting balls for four, five and six hours. That’s what snooker players generally do.

“Most people go down the club, have a laugh and chat with their mates while they are playing, but when it becomes a job you don’t talk.

“You just keep quiet, concentrate and stay in that bubble for as long as you can. I just think that’s not healthy in general to do that day in, day out.”

Not the first nor the last to talk about “snooker depression”, O’Sullivan’s fellow professionals have also spoken out about their mental health, including 2019 world semi-finalist Gary Wilson and former world champions Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy.

Depression is a term used to describe the feeling of persistent sadness or feeling down for weeks or months on end. Affecting people in varying ways, the condition can also cause a wide variety of symptoms.

The most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
  • Crankiness or irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won’t go away
  • Digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.

These feelings can sometimes be triggered by life-changing events such as bereavement or losing a job, or they can run in families, with those with a family history of depression more likely to experience it themselves.

The National Institute of Mental Health explains that some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances. Examples include the following:

Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia) is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.

Postpartum depression is something many women can experience during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression). The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany postpartum depression may make it difficult for these new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and/or for their babies.

Seasonal affective disorder is characterised by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This depression generally lifts during spring and summer. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year in seasonal affective disorder.

Due to the severity and range of conditions connected with depression, it is important that individuals seek medical help as soon as possible after they start to experience symptoms for a prolonged period of time. Depression is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

For mild depression, doctors may suggest waiting to see whether it improves on its own, while monitoring your progress. This is known as “watchful waiting”. They may also suggest lifestyle measures such as exercise and self-help groups. For moderate to severe depression, a combination of talking therapy – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – and antidepressants (like SSRIs) are often recommended.

For confidential support from trained volunteers, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected], or text SHOUT to 85258.

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