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Dhoni says talking about mental health still a taboo in India

MS Dhoni put forth his perspective on the topic of mental health and highlighted the importance of a mental conditioning coach. Dhoni has always been known for taking calculated risks and maintaining a calm composure during crunch situations.

But he is honest enough to admit that he too feels the heat when the going gets tough. Lending support to MFORE - launched by former India player S Badrinath along with entrepreneur Saravana Kumar - Dhoni put forth his perspective on the oftenneglected topic of mental health.

"In India, I feel there is still a big issue of accepting that there is some weakness when it comes to the mental aspects, but we generally term it as mental illness," Dhoni had said during a session with coaches from various sporting disciplines before the nationwide lockdown.

"Nobody really says that, when I go to bat, the first 5 to 10 deliveries my heart rate is elevated, I feel the pressure, I feel a bit scared because that's how everybody feels - how to cope with that?" the World Cupwinning captain pointed out.

"This is a small problem but a lot of times we hesitate to say it to a coach and that's why the relationship between a player and coach is very important be it any sport," said Dhoni, who hasn't featured in an international game post India's World Cup semifinal exit last July.

Highlighting the importance of a mental conditioning coach, Dhoni said: "Mental conditioning coach should not be the one who comes for 15 days, because when you come for 15 days you are only sharing the experience. If the mental conditioning coach is constantly with the player, he can understand the areas affecting his sport."

Badrinath felt the main objective of MFORE is to remove the interferences caused by the mind and enable an athlete to perform at his true potential. "We have been working on this project for about 8-10 months. What we have is a group of 20-25 mind coaches and sports psychologists from across the world. Our idea is to get the athlete to interact with them. We can subsequently come up with specific programs. We basically create a platform which will enable the athlete to do his mind-based training on a regular basis," he said.

To date there is little to no evidence to suggest professional sports people experience mental health issues at a higher rate than the general population. But sports psychologists say cricket’s unique demands may exacerbate existing issues. While crammed scheduling and social media abuse have been raised as key elements of the mental health debate, the sport’s relentless mental challenges may also play a role.

Recently, Australia Test player, Moses Henriques detailed his long struggle with depression, he confirmed this was his mindset. “I was so afraid of failure, I was so afraid of missing out,” he said.

“I was blaming cricket for my anxiety and I wanted to do well so much that it just took over. It just wasn’t healthy at all.” The nature of each player’s personal issues, as has been seen in the past fortnight, are markedly different. For some the relentless nature of modern scheduling has proved overly taxing, while for others the relentless negativity of social media has taken its toll.

According to Sarah Majid, an India-origin sports psychologist based in UK, ‘the Indian culture has little regard for psychological support or mental health in general’. “Even educated people in the sporting community have been giving physiotherapy more importance than psychology,” she says.

India’s women T20 coach Harmanpreet Kaur had recently demanded a sports psychologist, but world’s richest board hardly seems to care. BCCI has in the past roped in psychologists for few sessions before major ICC events, and had also directed state associations to hire a mental conditioning coach for Ranji teams, but the need for having a full-time coach has been completely overlooked. While BCCI’s reasons to not hire a sports psychologist remain unknown, definitely, not having able to find a reputed name can’t be among one.

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