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Michael White battles depression: Time for a break when black dog overtakes the black ball

Michael White battles depression: Time for a break when black dog overtakes the black ball

20/04/2016 at 07:56Updated 20/04/2016 at 12:00

Michael White deserves maximum praise for his bravery after becoming the latest snooker player to admit he is battling depression, writes Desmond Kane. The issue of mental health must continue to be highlighted in a professional tour where too many many figures spend their time in not-so-splendid isolation.

Darkened rooms, solitary confinement, lack of fresh air and too much time to overthink between matches. The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield is no place for people trying to see the light. Yet snooker appears to be a sport that is ripe to merely add to the gloom of a person who is not feeling great about themselves.

Michael White, a talented 24-year-old from Neath in Wales who enjoys his status as the world number 15, cut a troubled character in defeat on Monday evening, admitting he is struggling to cope with depression, a crippling mental illness to blight someone of such tender years with a future as healthy as the green, green grass of home.

White is the latest in a panoply of great Welsh players, including Ray Reardon, Mark Williams, Cliff Wilson, Doug Mountjoy and Matthew Stevens to have enlivened snooker, but the youngster has mysteriously cut a dejected figure amid his sport's biggest few weeks of the year.

White suffered a 10-7 loss to qualifier Sam Baird, the world number 59, in making an early departure from this year’s World Championship, but it may prove to be blessing in disguise. The young Welshman appeared to sport a hangdog look before finally falling to defeat, almost being toppled by a sense of relief.

Yet snooker is merely a trivial pursuit to what he is feeling. For White, the black dog has gobbled up the black ball. There was something inherently sad to hear such a young man make such an admission at a tournament that provides snooker players with the ultimate endorsement of years of hard work, labour and striving to perfect such a curious craft.

Quite simply, White, winner of last year's Indian Open, would rather be anywhere but here right now, and will be after exiting the Crucible’s stage door for an extended period away from the sport.

"I don't want to make an excuse and I've never mentioned it before, but I do suffer with depression," said White. "Stress can bring it on and make it feel worse and I couldn't focus out there at all."

"I don't really know where to turn at the moment with my game. But I've got to get my mental state right first before I can go anywhere.

"I won't be playing for a month or so. I'll try and reflect on the championship and season and go from there."

White is not the first player to suffer from depression, and he will not be the last. Ronnie O’Sullivan has told this onlooker extensively about his ongoing problems with the illness via his Eurosport blog and the need to maintain a regular exercise regime to help combat it.

The Northern Irishman Mark Allen explained to Eurosport in an exclusive interview about the need to keep himself in a positive mood when he is on the road.

The life of the long-distance snooker player is no place for negative thoughts when you are flying to various outposts in the world, and checking in and out of hotels. It was not long ago that Allen could not be bothered getting out of bed.

It is not for many what could be thought of as the good life.

“My favourite part of the world to travel is the UK,” said the world number seven Allen. “I like being at home, and I like my home comforts.

“I’m not a big fan of travelling, but you have to grin and bear it.”

Mark Allen has battled depression

Mark Allen has battled depressionImago

"Wait until he has a baby and it gets difficult having to pack your bags, and shoots off to China while your partner chases you out the door saying: 'Don't go.'

"It does get very difficult, but we know what we've got in store. When you lose, it can be quite soul-destroying. In golf you get a chance to do what the other guy is doing, but not in snooker.

"You can practice as much as you want, but if you don't turn up on the day, you can be going home in less than half an hour. Especially if you are playing Ronnie."

The battle to fight mental illness and to ensure there is longer a stigma in admitting you suffer from depression depends upon men like White being brave enough to confront such an affliction. In defeat, White was a man on Monday evening.

The splendid isolation of a snooker player where some practice alone for hours and hours a day is hardly a proscribed method if feelings of self-loathing come to the surface. Adverse results will merely add to the malady.

White deserves the full support of his sport to cope with and combat such widespread illness that threatens more than just his burgeoning career as an elite player. Such a problem cannot be swept under the snooker table as he tries to piece his career back together.

Desmond Kane at the Crucible Theatre

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