Monday, 28 November 2011
Gary Speed RIP
In the stories, obituaries and tributes which have been paid to the late Gary Speed, one thing is consistent: the shock that such a personable, good-looking, talented man could have taken his own life. He seemed to have the world at his feet: a beautiful wife, two young kids, a burgeoning career and a reputation as one of footballs genuinely good guys.
Nobody has had anything but good words to say. Even the much-maligned Robbie Savage provided a tender and touching tribute to his friend. Having played for Everton and Leeds United it's a fitting testimony to the man that even fans of Liverpool and Manchester United have been quick to pay their respects to their old rival. Speed's charm dissolved club allegiances and made him one of the true greats of the Premier League era.
The details of the Wales manager's death are unclear, but it now appears certain that Speed hung himself. Coming just over a year after the Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke threw himself under a train, weeks after a Bundesliga referee attempted to kill himself and mere days after Stan Collymore tweeted a long essay about his own battle with depression, we can now only hope that such stories shine a light on the debilitating and depressingly common instances of mental illness that can affect people in any sphere of life.
That Speed and Enke were rich, successful men is an irrelevance. Their battle with the demons which tortured them was personal and very real to them. So real that suicide was the only way they could find solace. Fame, talent and millions in the bank were not comfort enough for men so desperate that death was more attractive than life.
If such destructive thoughts can plague professional footballers they can plague anyone. And they do. Regularly. Everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed with depression or other mental illnesses. Most people will have been affected deeply and personally. And anyone whose life has been touched or coloured by such conditions is only too aware that those suffering cannot simply 'pull themselves together'. It's not possible to 'get your chin up' and it's not something which can be ignored.
It's vital that Gary Speed's death is not glossed over or re-written in any way. He killed himself. He wasn't being selfish. He didn't want to hurt anyone. He just couldn't take any more. And he obviously felt that he had nowhere to turn. Perhaps his own lack of understanding played a part. Perhaps he was afraid of being stigmatised. Perhaps even Speed himself felt he should just knuckle down and pull himself through his dark feelings.
Hopefully some good will come from this. Maybe such a successful figure's suicide will make people realise that depression can affect absolutely anyone - at any time. Maybe it will encourage sufferers to seek help, see a doctor or speak to their friends or family. Maybe it will cause people to re-evaluate the way they see sufferers of mental illness. It might not be a disease we can see, but that makes it no less deadly.
Suicide is always a tragic, but let's not allow Gary Speed's suicide to be a waste.