Where’s Your Head At?
Mental health can be a difficult term.
It’s usually paired in people’s minds with mental illness and can be confused with certifiable or psychiatric illness.
I’m no mental health professional but from my own experience and extensive reading, I’ve come to learn how broad this term can be.
Experiencing everyday life stress? Too much work and it’s hard to make practice? Recently unemployed and don’t know if you can pay your dues? Been bullied at training? Relationship break-up?
Say ‘yes’ to any of these things, or similar, and you’ve experienced a mental health challenge to your participation in roller derby.
The reality of roller derby is that statistically, the women involved in the sport are vastly over represented in mental health issues.
The Beyond Blue website states that from puberty onward, women are twice as likely to experience depression than men.
Depression occurs more commonly in younger, rather than older women.
Those women who are vulnerable will usually experience their first episode during the years 15 to 45.
Then there’s postnatal depression and hormonally-related depression and factor into that experiences of grief and loss, anxiety, and all the many other ways mental health can challenge us.
In my time with roller derby I’ve travelled and met derby girls with different challenges.
Perhaps you’re like a derby girl I met who’d started college for the first time as a mature-age student.
She finally got into her course after her experience with roller derby allowed her to think she could commit to her dreams.
A demanding semester or two later, and her attendance was suffering because she was so mentally exhausted by classes, assignments and exams, that she didn’t trust herself to safely negotiate the pack.
The kind words of a small handful of league mates made all the difference. Others were less understanding.
When another skater experienced a nasty injury, it really shook her.
She pushed on and into training sessions with a fresh appreciation for her physical vulnerability and mortality and with a renewed sense of commitment to the sport.
But she quickly found that the very traumatic memory of that injury and pain was affecting her ability to make good calls in the pack, and causing panic and anxiety every time she trained.
And, in the face of no immediate solution to this dilemma, she resigned from her league, but misses roller derby every day.
Stress and trauma significantly increases our chances of accident and injury and this isn’t an occurrence leagues can take lightly.
The contact nature of our sport can challenge the ways that our physical boundaries are understood to be ‘safe’.
For women who have experienced assault participation can be both incredibly challenging, and the best damn thing in their lives.
A recent Australia survey found that more than half of the women surveyed (57%) had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence over their lifetime.
Women in the 18-24 year age bracket were more likely to be assaulted than women in other age-groups.
While women negotiate this new relationship and physicality they learn how to pick themselves up and keep going.
But they’re not always going to get this first go and they shouldn’t have to.
Renegotiation is a word that aptly describes the process of healing or resolving trauma.
Renegotiating the relationship and physical experiences a skater has in roller derby can create positive experiences and unlock undiscovered potential.
They could be the best teammate you ever had.
Unfortunately, this is a process which requires regularly negotiated skating and scrimmage time, and isn’t going to fit neatly into a normal training schedule.
Some people would say ‘leave it at home’, when it comes to derby your training time shouldn’t be affected by external stressors.
That’s a great principal but we’re not all built the same.
Some people might find that on some days, a kind word, or a supportive whip makes all the difference in the world. Others might need some time out, or the option to join a low-contact session.
And all of these kinds of people can make great derby players, and deserve to participate in derby to the fullest.
Ultimately, derby requires a huge number of varied strengths to form a team.
No one player can, or should, be all of those things, so the broader a range of skills and abilities you have represented, the better a team you’re going to have.
Everyone deserves to be supported and challenged the best way they can. Let’s give people as much support as they need to get the most out of derby.
Feeling stretched already, and can’t imagine how you’ll do that?
Remember that best mental health practice looks after you too, and encourages people to make changes in their participation that are appropriate to their needs, so that everyone can be strong and grow into each challenge together.
As a team.
as seen in Issue 7, Summer 2011.