June 15, 2024

Depression in Fighters – A Real Possibility

Boxers and other fighters deal with repeated head blows through practices and the fights themselves.  These repeated blows are linked to the development of depression. 
On 31 May 2012, Lewis Pinto, a promising English super middleweight tweeted “No matter how good or bad you think life is, wake up each day and be thankful for life. Someone somewhere else is fighting to survive”. 3 days later and a mere 7 weeks since announcing his arrival to the professional circuit with his first and only victory, Pinto took his life leaving his record to forever stand at 1-0.
The tragic circumstances of Pinto’s death stunned the UK boxing community, and touched an international fraternity still grieving with the loss of Johnny Tapia who, after enduring repeated bouts with depression, succumbed to a suspected overdose a week previously. Tapia had reached the zenith of professional boxing, a five time world champion at featherweight and super flyweight (he retired with a record 59-5-2) but his fight with depression and addiction retold a story all too frequently ignored by boxing’s hierarchies. Depression in professional boxing is an issue which the main governing bodies, WBO, WBC, WBA and IBF have yet to meaningfully address, notwithstanding the disproportionate instances of mental health issues which afflict their fighters and by remaining silent on what is a pressing crisis issue in sport, the sanctioning bodies are tacitly reinforcing the stigma associated with depression.
Fighters are high risk candidates for developing depression. Professional boxing is one of the most brutal demonstrations of athletic ability and the relationship between repeated forceful head trauma and depression is steadily being established. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association linked brain injury with depression. With the American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimation that 90% of boxers sustain brain injury, it’s shouldn’t be difficult to recognise the vulnerability of boxers.
The physical toll exacted by the sport is only one aspect to this problem. There are other, more subtle contributory factors. Boxing requires a supreme self confidence in one’s ability to fight. The theatrical bravado reeled off by pros at press conferences is deeper than cockiness, this self-belief is an absolute requirement for victory in combat sports. The pro boxer isn’t simply looking to outplay or outscore, he’s looking to outfight his opponent and unless our pugilist totally believes he is the stronger and braver, the ring can be a lonely place. It’s hard to reconcile doubt with outward expressions of confidence, or to admit uncertainty in an industry dominated by herculean machismo. If a fighter has reservations, he’s likely to keep them private and the cumulative effect of this internally directed angst can be devastating for a person’s mental well-being. More at Fighters are high risk candidates for developing depression
Everyone knows that to be a fighter is a dangerous profession but as more is known about the affect of the head blows to his or her mental and emotional state it’s obvious it’s even more dangerous than previously thought. It can negatively affect the person physically, emotionally and mentally – not just while he or she is in the ring but outside of it as well.

RT @psychcentral: 5 Myths About Fighting the Blues http://t.co/mMeqH9R2 Things to avoid when #depression sets in.

— HYSHO (Screen4MentalHealth) (@HYSHO) Mon Jul 9 2012