Mark Cavendish has spoken powerfully about his personal struggles with depression and mental illness, and the impact they had on his family.
In conversation with the BBC’s Nihal Arthanayake, Cavendish opened up about how his mental health in the context of his recent crash at the Ghent six-day track event where he broke two ribs and one of his lungs collapsed.
When asked how Cavendish felt as a father when his children and wife saw him crash in Ghent, he explained that in comparison to a period of depression he experienced, he felt seeing him crash was relatively manageable.
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“They’ve been with me while I dealt with depression," the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider explained. "And I tell you, if they can deal with the me… well they wasn’t dealing with me. You know? If you can deal with a parent or family member, or someone close to you going through mental health struggles, then I think most things pale in comparison to that."
Cavendish also referenced a part of his career where he suffered from Epstein Barr virus.
"I had Epstein Barr virus previous, and I couldn’t be a dad, couldn’t climb the stairs, I was tired going upstairs so I definitely couldn’t do my job, I definitely couldn’t be a father.
"But then, a change of personality, not even a change of personality, a completely different personality, when you deal with mental health problems. If, as a family, they can deal with that they can deal with a little crash here and there.”
Cavendish was also asked about whether he felt the need to try and mask his own problems with mental health from his family.
"From my personal experience, you’re not in control of it. I can’t remember some instances, I don’t know if it’s me of if it’s not me. You’re not aware of if it’s you or who you are or what you’re doing. It’s not a choice or an emotion you’re feeling, it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.”
The 36-year-old explained further his own experience of depression.
“You don’t feel anything and you’re not aware enough of anything to understand how to ‘play it’ or understand how to pretend not to be. At times you can, but for the predominance either you feel nothing or you feel everything.”
Cavendish also reflected on his own perception of mental illness prior to having experienced it.
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"It’s quite a strange thing because I’m quite passionate about talking about mental health struggles, because before I had them I was one of the people that just thought it was an excuse, that it didn’t exist, that people were just looking for attention. So it’s almost karma that I struggled and it’s why I’m so passionate now about talking about it.”
Cavendish called on those who might try to dismiss mental health issues to re-evaluate their attitudes.
“If I didn’t think it was real, I’m not the only one in the world who doesn’t think it’s real. If I can have the problems that I had, it can happen to anyone.
“People who dismiss it, don’t just not help someone who’s struggling. It’s actually a detriment. It’s important to take it seriously.”
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