Mental health and sport – top coach speaks out

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One of the most successful sports coaches in Argyll has opened up about his struggles with mental health.

In a candid and moving interview broadcast at half-time during BBC ALBA’s coverage of the shinty/hurling international – well worth a watch on the BBC iPlayer – James Perlich spoke openly about his experiences in the hope of giving others the confidence to consider their mental health.

James Perlich picks up shinty’s Marine Harvest Coach of the Year award in 2017, alongside Kyles Player of the Year, Andrew King

Tighnabruaich man James, coach and manager for many years at the top level with Kyles Athletic shinty team, has taken a step back from the sport to focus on his health.

It was back in 2015 that he began experiencing high levels of anxiety and had trouble concentrating. ‘I spent a whole year angry,’ he explained. It was his wife, a mental health nurse, who persuaded him to seek help through his GP.

He was doing everything he was being asked to do then, in 2017, he had what he described as a ‘depressive episode’, during which he felt he ‘wasn’t good enough’ and ‘poor at everything’.

James said: ‘When the doctor mentioned the word ‘depressive’ that really upset me. I thought I must just be really ungrateful.

‘I had managed a successful shinty team, got a beautiful wife and son, a good job, great friends – the list goes on. I had nothing to be upset about.’

Sport looks after peoples’ physical well-being, but James believes there is room for more. ‘It’s all very well looking after the physical side of things, he said ‘but how often do we ask how sports people are doing mentally?’

Also interviewed for the programme was Mark Fleming of Positive Mental Health Scotland, who stressed the importance of clubs being able to recognise the symptoms of poor mental health, something echoed at shinty’s governing body, the Camanachd Association.

The association’s development manager Graham Cormack said resources would be provided to clubs to help deal with mental health issues, showing a pathway from clubs to sources of professional help.

James added: ‘I know I have to step back for a while, but I’ll be back.’