Mental health is being talked about more and more in the snooker world.
Depression has dominated the discussion for some time, not least because of the bravery of modern snooker’s most celebrated player, Ronnie O’Sullivan, who, for over a decade, has spoken very openly about his challenges with the illness.
Other top players who have opened up about their struggles with depression are Graeme Dott, Mark Allen and Michael White, each of whom has contributed to a greater understanding of depression and the particular difficulties endured by elite snooker players.
While there is evidence to suggest that professional sportspeople are no more at risk of depression than the general public, there is a case to be made for snooker players being in a special category.
The previous research on sportspeople and depression has tended to focus on athletes in team sports. Not only is snooker not a team sport, it is one of the more solitary individual sports.
Singles tennis is an individual sport. But the lifestyle of an elite tennis player is not as solitary as that of a top snooker player.
Andy Murray is alone on the tennis court but such is the money in tennis, he is able to train and travel with a team of coaches and physios. Sometimes he’ll be away from his family, but his strong support network on the road staves off the worst loneliness.
For snooker players, loneliness is more likely.
Speaking to The Belfast Telegraph about his battle with depression, Mark Allen said:
“A lot of things contributed to it and I’m sure that being a snooker player and being on my own all the time probably triggered it.”
Research has shown that social isolation and depression are closely linked. Therefore, snooker players, such as Mark Allen, who are often forced to practice, travel, and compete with only themselves for company, are perhaps at greater risk of suffering from depression than other sportspeople and, indeed, non-sportspeople who work in a team or in an office environment.
Depression is a complex illness and there are a number of factors linked to it besides social isolation and loneliness.
Nevertheless, and though there is a great deal of speculation at play here, further study into snooker’s relationship with depression might well benefit from considering the extent to which loneliness and social isolation are part of a snooker player’s life.