Everyone asked about Buffon but nobody asked about Gigi

Mental health is probably the most misunderstood disease and is subject to assumptions and misconceptions which are simply not there for any other disease

Gigi Buffon
Gigi Buffon

Dealing with the issue of mental health is a daunting enough task for sufferers, however for those in public life it presents a challenge of its own.

Mental health is probably the most misunderstood disease and is subject to assumptions and misconceptions which are simply not there for any other disease. I think over the next few decades, as we better understand mental health, we will look back at the grotesque way we have handled the issue in our history and shudder at the thought of how so many people who needed help were sidetracked by society.

In mental health, there is no shape or size of sufferers. They are not restricted to how much they earn, how successful they are or social status. I was touched by the openness of a World Cup winner and Italian legend Gigi Buffon during a recent interview where he talked about a phase in his life where he suffered depression.

‘For a few months everything lost any sense. I thought others didn’t care about me, but cared only for the champion on the outside. Everyone asked about Buffon but nobody about Gigi.’ I was touched by this sentence. Italians have a way with words, don’t they?

“It was a very difficult time. I was 25 years old and I was successful,” Buffon continues. He describes how one day, just before a match, he had a panic attack and told his coaches he could not play. “I simply couldn’t handle playing the game,” explained Buffon.

He said the crucial thing he did was open up, rather than close off and double-down on it. He said at that moment he realised he needed help and faced his challenge.

“I was never ashamed of crying or showing weakness,’” Buffon said.

In a traditionally conservative culture such as Italy such steps are even more difficult. But it is important not to close off. In Malta the notion of mental health has improved a lot over the past twenty years but still there are still people who face their challenge in the darkness, fearful of being judged or of being interpreted as weak by society.

People in public life highlighting these issues are providing a tremendous amount of goodwill. In Malta there are many people who have talked about their experiences, even recently, and such steps help diminish the fear of the unknown that some see in mental health.

We have invested a lot in schools on the well-being of students. In some schools we have doubled the number of personnel in social support services, which includes mental health support.

This was done quietly and without much fanfare over the past five years, but the work on the ground due to this investment has been very positive.

In truth, being a young person was never truly an easy journey, but I do believe that today’s life has a new set of challenges which in the past we never faced. Again, we should not be blinded by the fact that our society is better off financially, or that our children have nice gadgets.

These are things which rarely have an effect. It is all about balance – and finding the right support when one needs it.

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