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Hay reveals illness
28th August 2006
© sportal.com.au Reproduced by Permission

Beleaguered Kangaroos defender Jonathan Hay has revealed that he has been suffering from bipolar disorder for the past three years.

The 2001 All Australian addressed his teammates and informed them of his struggle with the illness before making an emotional statement to the media on Monday.

"I would rather not be sitting here today, but things have come to a point for my own benefit and in the interests of the North Melbourne Football Club, my teammates and all the supporters, I need to give an explanation as to why I have had the year I've had," Hay said.

"Three years ago I was diagnosed with a mental health problem known as bipolar depression."
Hay had been receiving treatment for the condition but said that recently, the treatment had not been working.

"This illness has directly effected my form, and at times my well-being and behaviour off the field."

"I am continuing to receive expert help and I am doing all in my power to ensure I can recover fully and return to consistent senior football."

"I want to publicly thank the North Melbourne football club and my teammates for standing by me during this difficult time."

Kangaroos CEO Geoff Walsh indicated that the club will give Hay its full support in his attempt to recover from the disorder.

Walsh was also quick to forgive Hay for his previous misdemeanours now that the reason for those misdemeanours - including drinking before a VFL game in Tasmania, failing to turn up to team training and disappointing the team on the field - has emerged.

"Knowing that today (that Hay had bipolar depression) would we have dealt with it earlier? Would we have looked at that as warning signs? Would we have treated that with a bit more understanding?" Walsh asked. "You can tick all those boxes."

Former Kangaroo and Sydney Swan Wayne Schwass, now the director of the Sunrise Foundation, an organisation that addresses depression in elite athletes, called Hay's statement 'courageous' and threw his full support behind the defender's rehabilitation efforts.

"It's about the person right at the moment, it's not about the football player and if we can support Jon in his recovery, I'm sure that we will see Jon Hay the footballer return" Schwass said.

Schwass announced earlier this year that he had played at the highest level while suffering from depression, and he said that he was using his experience in the AFL and with the illness to assist and mentor Hay.

"All I would encourage Jon to do is concentrate on what he's doing now" Schwass said.

"I think Jon's got all the support he needs to move forward and get well again."

The club did not put a timeframe on Hay's return to form, but Professor Patrick McGorry, a psychiatrist at Melbourne University, was confident that the former Hawk would make a full recovery.

"It is very much a health problem … it has to be thought about as any another injury you suffer in the course of your life, in the course of your career." Professor McGorry said.

"We are very optimistic that he will make a good recovery. The analogy I have is osteitis pubis, you don't know when it is going to get better, and you can't project,"

"You have to stick with it and hope the player comes good."

McGorry said that Hay's on-field and off-field struggles epitomise the symptoms of bipolar depression.

"Bipolar depression is a more severe form of depression that is associated with mood swings," McGorry said.

"Basically depression undermines you energy for living, you can't sleep so you can imagine in Jon's case he has not slept at all before a game … it reduces energy, it reduces your ability to relate well to other people, it reduces your sense of the future, so you are very pessimistic, maybe very despairing."

"So it is a very nasty thing to be working through and it has major effects on your life."

Hay was supported in his media conference by teammate Nathan Thompson, who has also suffered depression.

Welsh confirmed that that Thompson will use his experience in overcoming the illness and resuming a successful AFL career to help Hay get back on track.

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