I wanted to touch on the mental health issue this week. This is by no means my area of expertise, and I have no formal qualifications to speak of. I have, however, spent over two decades in combat sports as a fighter, coach of a large team (scrappymma.com), and promoter (eternalmma.com). I was also in the British Infantry for 5 years and served abroad. I have encountered many people who have been suffering from their mental health, I have suffered from my own demons (most people have) and helped friends manage theirs and have friends help me manage mine.
Being that this is an MMA blog I will write from that perspective, but I feel that the issue can be crossed over to any area of life and any person. Mental health definitely doesn’t discriminate. Fighters are a funny bunch. On the surface, they are tough guys and girls. But scratch the surface and underneath there are many complexities and usually a very sensitive side. We have to ask the question, “Why do you fight”. The reasons are obviously multitude and everyone’s is different. I have seen fighters who love the discipline and competition aspect and enjoy martial arts. There are the ones who needed salvation and a positive hobby to focus on. There are the rough kids who have come up tough and need an outlet and an escape. As a coach, to this day, I have at least one of all of these types of guys in my gym. As a fighter, I had training partners that fit loosely into these categories regularly. These are just a few reasons why people fight. The important takeaway is that everyone has their own reasons; and as a coach, friend, training partner or loved one it’s important to know the why or at least have an idea.
The pressures fighters face are also huge. A lot of them are working full time, have families or partners, and a full-time gym schedule. The mental issues of preparing for a fight; worrying about the opponent and the match up or at least thinking about it, dieting, being physically tired and rundown and sore, getting in trouble at home because your loved ones miss you and want to spend time with you. Most don’t understand exactly what’s happening at the gym and how hard their partner is working, the boss is sick of them struggling around the place during fight camp. Pressure mounts up. Then there is the pressure they put on themselves to do well. Often we are dealing with young men and women, who don’t necessarily know that it’s ok not to be ok, and how to vocalize their stresses. They may even feel ashamed/weak to even be feeling that way. I can often tell when my guys are off or not feeling it and I always ask them if they are doing ok. It’s a simple question but it offers an invitation to discuss any issues or have a vent. I can’t encourage you to check in on people that you care about from time to time and ask them if they are doing ok, especially if you notice they are not themselves.
Some key indicators maybe a dip in performance at training, they may be drinking more, they may be using drugs more. Someone who is normally chatty may have become quiet and distant, someone who is normally calm may have become snappy or started going really hard in practice. There may only be slight changes but when you know someone well you will get a sense of it. If you are reading this and feeling a bit like has been described, grab someone and talk to them.
Read: Get help with Depression
In this day and age, it’s no sign of weakness to be stressed and feeling under pressure. We live in a world of constant stimulation, on our phones, there are people setting our expectations of how we should look and how good our life should be. Remember, on social media people show you what they want you to see, it’s usually the highest highs and the lowest lows (and a lot of steroids and photoshop) and it’s wrong to try and emulate these people.
Although not the most glamorous of topics and a little heavy, I’m not normally this deep, I feel it’s a prevalent problem in our industry. I deal with it weekly so believe me you aren’t alone.
In closing I will say this “It’s OK not to be OK!!” it’s most definitely not OK to go through it alone.