Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Rebecca Marino: Courageous Young Woman, Confusing CBC Story

Yesterday, CBC National carried an interview with Rebecca Marino, a young woman who has recently announced that she will be stepping away from a promising tennis career because of the toll that living with a Depression has taken on her. Click here to see the interview.

Kudos to her for being open and honest about the challenges she has faced.  As she put it, “I don’t have the passion I used to have”.  Depression is tough - it takes a toll on energy, on concentration, on experiencing pleasure and on many parts of life.  For some people who are caught in the jaws of Depression, just getting up every day and getting a small task accomplished is a success. 

And, let’s not underestimate the incredible toll that training to become an elite athlete can take on young people.  It’s tough!  The commitment has to be total, the stakes are high and the price of failure is also high.  It takes dedication and determination of a quantity and quality that most of us could not summon.  Elite athletes are amazing people and to be successful they need to be mentally and physically healthy.

So what did the CBC news story say?  On the website the story byline is: “Canadian admits social media comments took a toll.”  And what did the interviewer ask about – cyber bullying!  And what did Rebecca Marion say: “there were a lot of negative tweets along with a lot of positive tweets”…”this has not impacted my choice”.

Indeed, she was very clear.  She said that “depression has impacted my life and my career.”  That is the story – Depression, a mental illness has made it difficult for her to continue her career – to the point that she has decided to step away from that choice.  What if she had suffered a severe tear to her rotator cuff and could no longer swing her racket?  Likely the same outcome!  What if she had suffered a complex, multiple fracture of her tibia and fibula, so that she could no longer move rapidly across the tennis court?  Likely the same outcome!  But she suffered a perturbation of brain functioning called Depression and the CBC wants to make the reason cyber-bullying?

Am I missing something here?  Or is the media missing something here?  Is the point of the story supporting a promising young athlete dealing with a potentially career ending injury or is the point of the story to sensationalize cyber-bullying?  If Marino had suffered a shoulder or leg injury would the story be about cyber-bullying?  I doubt it.  Why is then a story that should be about Depression has become one about cyber-bullying? 

This story makes me wonder about a couple of things.  Are we seeing stigma against mental illness at play here?  Are we seeing a substantial lack of mental health literacy in media personnel here?  Are we seeing an attempt to “sell the news” instead of “reporting the news” here?  I don’t know.

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The Toronto Star also did a story on this.   Here the story is more balanced, more nuanced, yet even here the headlines focus on “cyber-bullying”.

Did Marino experience negative social media comments?  For sure she did.  Is that different than other elite athlete’s experiences? Maybe not.  Did they take a toll on her?  Likely.  Would she have been able to roll with the punches if she did not also have Depression?  Maybe – Depression takes a huge toll on a person’s ability to deal with negative events and negative experiences.  It makes you more vulnerable and may interfere with your usual ability to adapt to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” 

So now we have a better insight of the complexities of the issue.  Its really not about cyber-bullying – it’s about Depression and how it interferes with a person’s ability to adapt.  This does not mean that we can condone such negative electronic interactions.  As a society we need to learn to deal with the huge negativities that Twitter and Facebook and other social networking tools can create – especially to vulnerable people.  But let’s not forget Depression.  As far as I can tell, Marino’s career ending injury was a Depression, not Twitter.

- Dr. Stan Kutcher

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