Why This WACA Test is Tough

Date: January 19, 2012 / Posted by control
Photo: Theo Fakos, News Limited

Photo: Theo Fakos, News Limited

By Todd Cardy, The Sunday Times, 15 January 2012

Former sports broadcaster Glenn Mitchell is a noticeable absentee at the WACA Ground this weekend. But those who have missed him since his resignation from the ABC last May – a consequence of his private battle with depression – will be encouraged to know that he is feeling better about the world.

For once Glenn Mitchell got to spend Christmas Day at home in Perth with his family.

In previous years, he had to say goodbye in the afternoon and get to the airport to catch a flight to Melbourne so that he would be behind the microphone at the MCG for the Boxing Day Test.

“It was fantastic from the family point of view (being at home)”, he said.

“But when I woke up on Boxing Day, I said to (my wife) Karen it will be a tough day and it was. While I did get the chance to sit with my little boy and watch, I found it very tough.

“And with the Test match this week in Perth, it’s only getting tougher.”

It’s clear that cricket remains very close to his heart, but Mitchell doesn’t feel ready to return to the WACA or any other cricket ground.

“Someone offered me some tickets to sit in the Members’ and take my little boy but I have said no – it is probably a bit early for that,” he said.

Mitchell was one of the country’s top cricket and football commentators when he resigned as executive producer of sport for the ABC in WA.

To outsiders and those unaware of his inner turmoil, giving up such a privileged role, doing something he loved, didn’t make sense.

But in June, Mitchell wrote a detailed farewell email to his ABC colleagues which revealed his five-year battle with depression.

During his stellar career, he covered four Olympic Games, four Commonwealth Games and nearly 100 Test matches, including four Australian tours of India. And much of his success was achieved while being buffeted by mental illness.

Mitchell was diagnosed with depression in September 2005. His wife, fellow ABC sports presenter, Karen Tighe urged him to go to his GP after he became insular, depressed and “extremely non-communicative”.

Mitchell said of the time: “I still managed to do my job, but after work I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I then realized son James (now six) hadn’t been getting the father that he should have, and I wanted to do something that changed that.

Between 2005 and 2010, Mitchell continued to suffer “ups and downs” but he took medications and believed that he was on the mend.

Mid-last-year, after returning from covering the World Cup cricket tournament in India to a grueling schedule of football commitments, his world “spiraled out of control”.

In May he resigned from the ABC and shortly after made an attempt on his own life in the Perth Hills. Thankfully, a park ranger came to his aid.

While frightening for himself and his loved ones, Mitchell said the incident sparked a new beginning.

He has been diagnosed with type two bipolar disorder in which patients have severe depressive states but only mild highs compared with people with bipolar type one.

Mitchell says a correct diagnosis made “a hell of a lot of difference”.

He said: “I feel as good as I have felt in years, which has made me feel balanced. I am not having the mood swings, and I have learnt quite a bit about the illness by reading up about the condition and speaking with other people.”

Mitchell has commendably set out to help other sufferers and their families by joining WA mental health support service One Life as an advocate, touring the country to raise awareness.

“My work has really opened my eyes,” he said.

“At the moment the biggest killer of Australian males under 44 is suicide, and if you aggregate suicides in every state, it outweighs the national road toll each year.” Last September, Mitchell gave his first talk on his experiences at a football awards night in the Wheatbelt town of Kojonup.

“I remember saying that, “This a first for you and a first for me – it is the first time you’ve heard me speak publicly about things other than sport, and it’s the first time I’ve spoken publicly about things other than sport”, he said.

Since then, Mitchell has spoken at a number of events in country WA and has signed on to do a further 15 over the next 10 weeks. He aims to branch out to the Kimberley and Pilbara over the years.

“For me, going back over my story is quite cathartic,” he said. “I have started writing a book, which is not about sport, but about my journey.”

Mitchell described his journey as “ongoing” and a story that he likened to former West Coast Eagle Ben Cousins’ struggle with drug addiction.

Asked whether having a public spotlight shone on him while battling a mental health issue was helpful, a situation both he and Cousins had endured, Mitchell said: “Admittedly, he is still Ben Cousins the Brownlow medallist, but to hear that there are TV cameras and photographers outside hospitals waiting for a shot of him coming out, I feel sympathy for that because it is a very private situation.”

For now, Mitchell is enjoying days at home with James, between talks for One Life. He has also started keeping an internet blog, so far centred on cricket.

While he says not a day goes by that he doesn’t regret leaving the ABC, he is looking positively at the future, looking for a job.