Rugby player Joe Marler hasn’t just shown his masculine side on the field, away from the pitch he has courageously been brave enough to open up about his battle with mental health.
The signs were there in 2017 when Marler frequently dropped out of Irish Lions tours, when he did travel with the lads his erratic behaviour raised concerns about the player’s wellbeing.
This year, when things came to a head, he stepped away from the Six Nations to concentrate on family life with his wife Daisy and his three children, with a forth of its way.
After being diagnosed with depression he decided to go public about his condition in interviews and a series of podcasts.
Now, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week Marler fronts a new moving documentary for Sky Sports.
The opening words to Big Boys Don’t Cry sees Joe telling viewers, “When I look back now, I can see how much my mental health problems took over every aspect of my life. I am still figuring out how to help myself, and now I want to help others do the same.”
Appearing alongside Joe is his best friend Matt who reveals how Marler was “hammered a bit” for being a “chubby boy” with “mood swings”.
That so called chubby boy is now turning his life around by trying wild-water swimming Snowdonia, participating in an improvised acting workshop and signing up to the Tottenham Community Choir.
Marler said he was shocked when England head coach Eddie Jones told him he was not in a mental state to play for the team.
“Back in 2016 when I first stepped away from the England set-up and I remember sitting down and having a conversation with him in Brighton, and seeing that sort of human side to him in understanding where I was at, was massive,” he told i news.
“And then seeing it again in 2018, when I stepped away again, was also massive in that he understood and was there to be like ‘look, what can I do to help, can we get anyone involved to help you?’ He has always been massively receptive when I have spoken to him about it.
“Well, it’s huge. Especially when I had an opinion of him prior to opening up to him, of this hard-core, in-your-face, take-no-shit… he would probably have been the last person I’d think of to understand actually I need some time away to work out what’s going on here. I thought that would be it, that it would be [he imitates Jones’s voice] ‘mate, fuck off, the door’s fucking closed for you now!’ That’s exactly how I thought it was going to be, but to see that human side to him meant a lot to me.”
In the programme he reveals he has been taking medication and antidepressants every day since 2018.
“One of the doctors asked me if I took antibiotics when I got an ear infection. I said ‘yeah I take antibiotics’ and he said to see it in the same way, that you’re taking antidepressants alongside doing some CAT or doing work on the tools that help recognise what the triggers are, or the deeper stuff that might have affected me,” Marler says.
“So, accepting that, and understanding that… I might be on antidepressants for the next six months, or I might be on antidepressants for the next six years, I have to accept that’s fine and that’s what helps. It affects my day-to-day moods and therefore helps contribute to me being a little more level-headed in rugby.”
Sharing his thoughts on how his felow teammates could benefit from having someone to talk to on this year’s Lions tour Marler says: “Maybe it would be worth taking an extra member of staff who is suited in that sphere. I think it would be a very good idea. If they’re not going to take someone qualified, they definitely need to have a conversation as a whole touring party at the start. Lions tours are tough enough as they are, being away from your families, but this one is, in particular. You could nominate guys to be available to check in for a chat, but they’ve got games to think about.
“I reckon there’s more [players] out there that don’t want to come forward and open up.
“It [rugby] is an invasion sport. The whole point is to invade the opposition’s space in any way you can. And usually that involves physicality and trying to bully them. So you are constantly involved in an environment full of men trying to be alpha males on and off the field. If you then felt like you wanted to discuss your feelings or any emotions or any problems or issues that were going on in your life, you’d think twice about doing that in this environment.”
Joe Marler in Big Boys Don’t Cry on Sky Sports Arena and NOW at 4pm on Wednesday 12 May, and throughout the week on multiple Sky Sports channels.
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