Ben Stokes…Bravest of the brave?

Image credit
Ben Sutherland - https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/

Or is this just another “celebrity” jumping on the mental health bandwagon of self promotion?

I was asked to talk to our local radio station about Ben Stokes and mental health. Click here to listen… but please read on.

A lot has been written about Ben Stokes.

His trials, literally and metaphorically, have been documented in the press for sometime. Now, his latest challenge, that of his mental health, has been covered and exposed in a documentary for Prime Video on Amazon. I say “latest” when, in reality, this has been in his life for years.

The subject of mental health has risen in prominence in the last few years, accelerated by the COVID19 pandemic, as many of us were forced into having time for self reflection. Accompanying this, over the last few years, has been a slew of celebrity autobiographies which, call me a cynic, find it useful to confess to their mental health issues over the years to get the PR attention their books require.

This set of interviews from Ben. This barrage of publicity promoting the video from Amazon does not feel the same. There is an intense level of authenticity that Stokes brings to everything he does accompanying this launch. 

Let’s look at some of the defining moments in his life that we remember him for

  • Remembered vividly for batting in the tied super over in the 2019 World cup and bringing England to victory
  • Voted Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World in 2019 and 2020.
  • 2017 involved in and prosecuted for a street fight in Bristol – eventually cleared of affray and during the court case it is revealed he was rushing to the defence of two men suffering under homophobic abuse.
  • 2019 a story The Sun can be truly ashamed of emerge about a family tragedy in New Zealand in the 1980s

What the documentary reveals that many did not know is the loss of his father to brain cancer in 2020 and a series of increasingly debilitating panic attacks he was suffering which eventually caused him to take a break from the game. 

Looking from the outside into the story it is easy to see the components that will have brought their own individual issues but, when combined would provide a toxic mix that most of us would have found to be our greatest challenge.

Headline issues are 

  • Stress & pressure to constantly perform and be on to of his game
  • The double edged sword of fame that his performances bring. The appreciation, respect, adulation and crucially, validation that are heaped upon him but which can also be taken away if the crowd changes their opinion of him.
  • Court case  – acquitted – nevertheless extreme pressure 
  • A backdated ban and fine for the affray
  • Grief
  • Inability to deal with vulnerability – Ben refers to this as “It’s like you’re a glass bottle, you keep putting things in there and eventually over time there’s no more room and it smashes.“

I am sure there are more components to this I could list but they are enough. More than enough.

So he takes a break, gets a clinical psychologist to help him, is taking medication and advice and he is back looking and feeling better than ever.

My title for this article was “Ben Stokes…Bravest of the brave?”

My answer…I think so.

No matter how many celebrities sell their biographies with revelations about their breakdowns (and I am clear that these help breakdown barriers in mental health) there is still a stigma around mental health. The stigma is even greater in sport and even more so in a sport such as cricket where the mental toughness (think sledging and mind games) is so much a part of it.

At a time when many would have found it impossible to step away, despite the pain they were in, he did. He stepped away. He sought help and he took the advice he was given.

That is brave on many many levels and he will have a larger impact than many in lowering the barriers to talking about this important subject.

Ben Stokes, we already knew you were brave. Now we know even more.

I thank you.

If you want to improve your own or your teams email julian@calmpeople.co.uk to discuss your options. Prefer a safe, quiet online environment where you can self assess and develop your resilience in your own time? click here

Image credit

Ben Sutherland – https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/

License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/




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