Delegates at the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s sixth annual Sports Law Conference were urged to “take and give care” of themselves and their colleagues.
Ian Braid, former CEO of the British Athletes Commission (BAC), spoke candidly about his own experience of work-related mental illness.
He headed BAC during a particularly turbulent period for the organisation, with Team GB rocked by doping allegations and UK Athletics (UKA) accused of grossly mishandling allegations of sexual abuse in various British sports.
During this period, BAC was already under significant strain for financial resources and personnel. As a result, Mr Braid was left in an impossible position, working overtime to ensure that BAC provided the services due to its membership at a time of crisis in British sport.
Mr Braid spoke of struggling with a sense that he was somehow failing the athletes who relied on BAC’s help and, over time, developing intense anxiety and depression which he tried to tackle through exercise.
Like many others in his position, Mr Braid did not want to own up to needing help with his mental health, and instead kept his illness hidden from his family, friends, and work colleagues.
However, having sunk into a state which he described as “perpetual existential angst” and developing occasional suicidal thoughts, Mr Braid finally sought professional help for his mental well-being.
The family’s adoption of a soft-coated Irish wheaten terrier, Freddy, acted as a catalyst for Mr Braid to reach out for the help he needed. His initial reluctance to engage with the puppy was noted by his family. However, due to the puppy’s persistent attempts to play with him while he was in a depressive state, Mr Braid bonded with Freddy, who told the conference that “the bloody thing wouldn’t let me be miserable”.
Mr Braid resolved to contact a doctor to whom he had referred athletes for mental health worries. After realising that the root cause of his mental issues were almost all work-related, he took medical leave from his position and eventually left BAC in July 2017.
Since leaving work, he has reported a dramatic improvement in his mental well-being. He set up his own company, DOCIA Sports, which works with sporting bodies to ensure they meet duty of care standards set out in Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s April 2017 DCMS report.
Mr Braid concluded his address in Law Society House with an impassioned plea to professionals for whom his experiences may sound familiar to seek assistance for their mental health. With one in six British citizens suffering from some form of depression, and with over 70 million working days in the UK lost annually to mental illness, Mr Braid says that now is the time for those suffering in silence to come forward.
Kevin Burns, Irish Legal News