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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ian Thorpe's fight with depression

Australians are hard wired into believing that depression is something you never admit to.  If you find yourself falling into a deep, black hole, shut up, pull your socks up and snap out of it.  It's basically a character flaw - an illness reserved for cowards and wimps.

But that belief isn't working because more than half our population are taking anti-depressant medication. In 2010-1011, there were 13.6 million scrips written and subsidized by the Pharmaceuticals Benefit Scheme, according to figures from the Department of Health and I suspect that this year, it will be more.

Depression doesn't discriminate.  A man like Ian Thorpe - possibly our greatest sportsman ever - appears to have everything anyone could possibly need to be happy - good looks, prestige, wealth - but in his autobiography This is Me, he admits to struggling with depression for most of his life.  It was so severe, suicide consumed his thoughts and he weighed up different ways of how to kill himself.

And he did what most people do when they are depressed, he got drunk.  "It was the only way I could get to sleep.  It didn't happen every night but there were numerous occasions, particularly between 2002 and 2004 as I trained to defend my Olympic titles in Athens, that I abused myself this way - always alone and in a mist of  disgrace."

He also addresses that persistent question about his sexuality.  "For the record, I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight, I'm attracted to women, I love children and aspire to have a family one day.  I know what it's like to grow up and be told what your sexuality is, then realising that it's not the full reality.  I was accused of being gay before I knew who I was."

Mum, dad and sister in 2000

Thorpe, now 30, has the greatest respect for his parents who never knew about his battle, he didn't tell them because he saw his depression as a character flaw.  "But now I realise it's time to be open, I need to talk to them about it.....I know how mum will react, she'll cry and ask me why I didn't tell her and then she'll tell me how proud she is that I've finally talked about it.  Dad is different, I'm not sure how he'll react, I know it will take time for him to come to terms with it and how it fits in with his religious beliefs."

"I hope it does, because family means a lot to me."

Ken Thorpe in 2007