"I Didn't Care Whether I Lived Or Died" - Ricky Hatton Speaks Powerfully About Mental Health in Boxing
Over the years, the number of people suffering from anxiety or depression has significantly risen from 416 million people to 615 million people according to the World Health Organisation. On top of this, around 70 million workdays are lost due to mental illness.
This World Mental Health Day Morson spoke with former unified light-welterweight champion and British Boxing legend, Ricky Hatton, whose lengthy battle with depression led to attempted suicide. His story speaks of extremes, yo-yo-ing between the highs of success and crushing lows of defeat, resorting to self-medication and coming out the other side with the help of exercise and his family. Ricky attests to the strength of open communication and re-prioritisation, advice which transcends industries and workspaces.
Ricky Hatton was one of the most successful and influential British athletes of the last decade, however, like so many others, he had been secretly fighting depression long before any notoriety. In our exclusive interview with ‘The Hitman’, he spoke openly about how his depression manifested:
“It’s very hard to describe it unless you’ve been there yourself. It’s just totally depressed, no motivation, not the will to even get up in the morning. You know you need help, but you don’t want to tell anyone. You’re in bed crying every day. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Far from being purely something that came at the end of his career, Ricky believed that the seeds were in place long before:
“I think I’ve always had it. When I started getting successful, I was getting paranoid that people thought I was getting too big for my boots or too cocky. Every time I got paranoid from an early age. People would be saying ‘look at that big time’ and I’ve been anything but that”
Ricky’s success inside the ring served as a temporary distraction to the turmoil brewing inside but once he suffered his first loss inside the ring, things started to go noticeably downhill:
“When I got beat by Mayweather, I really did feel like I let the fans who came to Vegas down. That was the start of it then after that, I had a bit of a yo-yo effect. I got beat by Mayweather then I beat Lazcano and Malignaggi, then I got beat by Pacquiao. After that, I fell out with Billy Graham and my Dad. When I knew I had to retire that was the beginning of the end for me, I didn’t care whether I lived or died”
With no more bright lights or rabid fans packed in arenas, Ricky rapidly went into a downward spiral of, much publicised, substance abuse and an alcohol dependency. However, there came a moment that served as a catalyst for Ricky’s road to recovery:
“My baby girl came along, I held her in my arms and I thought it’s not about you anymore. Before the kids came along it was just Ricky Hatton and I didn’t care but now I had something else to live for. It was something I couldn’t do on my own, I went to see someone and it turned out to be the best move I ever did. It saved my life”
Even though the birth of Ricky’s daughter ultimately made him make the decision to seek help, it was actually vocalising his internal struggles and talking them through with someone else which turned his life around. With boxing a traditionally machoistic sport where mental warfare is as much a part of winning as the physical fight, for Ricky this was a large and brave step.
The Hyde-born fighter turned trainer opened the eyes of many in the boxing community and effectively opened the door for many other fighters to come forward and be honest about their fight with anxiety or depression, with one of the fighters he trains, Tyson Fury being a recent example.
Hatton talked with us about whether he believes his courage to come forward and discuss his illness saved the lives of others in the process whether they were in the sport of boxing or not:
“I’d like to think so, I see it as much as my job now (to help others). People think because you’re successful and you’ve got a few pounds in the bank that you’ve got nothing to worry about but that’s not the case. I think if someone like myself comes out and admits it, more people will come forward. I do a lot with Frank Bruno, he’s the same.”
Ricky finished the interview by offering advice to anyone who is suffering from anxiety, depression or any other form of mental illness:
“You’ve got to get it off your chest, don’t be scared about laying it all on the table and saying what you’re struggling with. I think you’ve got to try and do positive things that make you happy, a tablet just covers the cracks as far as I’m concerned. You’ve got to do things such as exercise when I have a bad day I come to the gym and I feel better for it”
Ricky felt he had to internalise his battle with mental illness due to the stigma attached to mental health problems, particularly in men at that time. While there might seem to be a sharp climb in the statistics in terms of the number of people suffering mental health problems, this figure could also reflect a greater openness and willingness to accept that people are struggling.
We at Morson encourage anyone who is struggling with mental illness to seek help and not suffer in silence. Mental health problems are much more common than you might think - even in places you wouldn't necessarily expect.
This World Mental Health Day, we have launched a guide to tackling mental health in the workplace in conjunction with Premiership Rugby team Sale Sharks. Click here to get your copy.