Aaron Lennon is a Premier League soccer player for Everton and England who was taken to hospital earlier in the year for assessment due to a “stress-related illness”. Another famous person in a list of those who are “successful” and struggling. But he’s rich, successful, and life should be nothing but roses for a guy who gets to play soccer for a job, and get paid obscene amounts of money for the privilege, right? What can possibly be stressful in the life of a millionaire soccer player? Lennon, at 30 years old is officially on the downside of his career, and I started to think once again about the importance of goal setting and the importance of having an exit plan for the way down. I don’t know if any of this had anything to do with Lennon’s recent problems and I am not going to speculate. However, I am going to address something that some people still seem to have a problem understanding: Mental illness does not care how much money you have, what your job is, or anything else people seem to assume fixes mental illness.
Other than what I can only describe as a disgusting demonstration of uneducated ignorance from one publication who tied his paycheck to this, there appears to be an overwhelming support for Lennon, with many people in sport, past and present offering their good will. Sadly, once in a while you will still see a comment “What’s he got to be depressed/anxious/stressed about, he’s got loads of money,” as if money were the only thing in the world that can make people happy and stress-free. Sadly, for those of us who don’t have it this can seem to be a big problem, and just a little more money would make our problems go away, right? Well, it would make those that can be fixed with money go away, but if you are completely honest with yourself would you say that all of your stresses, insecurities, hurts, and mental struggles can be fixed with a wad of cash? No? No, me neither. If only it were that easy.
There is a huge depth of courage needed for someone in the public eye to speak out on their illness, and I have massive respect for people like Clarke Carlisle who speaks out about his condition, or Chris Kirkland, who spoke of his anxiety (quote in the picture linked to interview). If we did have a huge bucket of expendable cash we wouldn’t be worried about money, but those other things that raise their heads to haunt us would become stronger. Money doesn’t cause problems, and it doesn’t solve them, it simply changes them. Aaron Lennon may have pots of gold under his bed, but this doesn’t make his life problem free, and it certainly doesn’t mean he is immune from mental illness. In fact, a 2015 study shows over a third of players, current and past struggle with mental health issues.
And here is where I get to the point of this article. Depression, anxiety, or any other mental illnesses do not have to be caused by something. People aren’t clinically depressed because they can’t afford to pay their bills, or because they have relationship problems, or any other situation in life, they are depressed because they have depression. People don’t have anxiety because of a circumstance or situation, they have anxiety because they have anxiety. A certain situation may exacerbate the situation and environment may be a factor, but it did not cause it. People are mentally ill because they have a mental illness.
Here are the three take aways for today:
1 – When you see someone who has a ton of money, or what you (or they) believe to be a successful career, and they seem to have it all together, this does not make them immune from mental illness.
2 – Just because someone is meeting the goals you have in your life, it doesn’t mean they are meeting their goals for their life. What if someone found themselves earning millions every year from doing something they hated? What if all they want is to be able to drive to the supermarket and be anonymous, and not have people taking pictures of them picking up milk? Having lots of money or a “dream job” doesn’t solve the world’s problems. It simply means they don’t worry about where the next meal is coming from, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have their own issues any less than you or I.
3 – Here’s the important one – As long as we keep trying to explain mental illness with a logical cause, we will continue to have stigma about it. It doesn’t have a cause in the same way a broken arm does. Mental illness often brings with it isolation and loneliness. We have to do better at accepting that mental illness can affect anyone, and understanding that no one is to blame.
No matter who it is, rich or poor, famous or anonymous, we each have our demons to face. Let’s not forget that as we go through life and interact with each other.
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Picture credit: http://www.thedaisycutter.co.uk/2013/05/chris-kirkland-chief-security-at-the-gates-of-owls-survival/