Dr Caroline Silby is a psychologist who has worked extensively with boxers and believes governing bodies need to do more to understand and develop the idea that “a boxer’s mental health is as important as their physical health”.
Dr Silby says by the time the more obvious signs of depression have been identified it’s often too late. “Prevention needs to include awareness and education,” she explained. “There should be informal assessments that athletes and trainers can use on a daily basis, related mood and sleep and eating patterns.
“On the treatment side national bodies need to have set tracks [standard procedures] on treatment, on diagnosis, because when athletes come forward you don’t have a lot of time to look around and to get help.”
Dr. Silby is also critical of the lack of support in place for those who face the difficult challenge of leaving sport behind.
“We absolutely need to do a better job on ‘post sport transitional support’,” she continued. “Once athletes leave the sport our job doesn’t end, we need to continue to provide support to move through that very difficult transition.”
There are also other factors to consider in addition to a boxer’s mental health background and their potential disposition to brain injury and their consequences. Boxing, and sport in general can create powerful psychological elements that shape an athlete’s thinking.
“Boxers compete in a sport where the definition of success includes a win at all cost attitude,” says Dr Silby. “All of your value as a person is tied to your athletic achievements and that leaves these athletes vulnerable to depression.
“We should be trying to reposition that definition of success to develop healthy individuals whose athletic outcome matches their capabilities. The attention to the person first and athlete second is a critical first step in mitigating and preventing this illness.
“This win at all cost thinking extends beyond the athlete; it is imbued in them form everyone they come in contact with and it has a damming effect
“There’s a network that surrounds a fighter that doesn’t really accept a loss, telling them they didn’t really lose, that the judges were bad, the referee was bad, all to shield them from the reality of what’s going on in their career.”