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Missing In Action
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24th May 2012

I have worked in the field of mental health for over 10 years in both a clinical and training role.
I am a practicing psychotherapist registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy and I am a qualified NVQ trainer and assessor with City & Guilds.
I co-ordinate the training and development of the clinical volunteers at SANE and also co-ordinate Mental Health Awareness training for external organizations. Alongside this, I plan, co-ordinate and deliver training in a number of health and social care settings.
I also have a small private psychotherapy practice where I work with people suffering from the more common mental health problems but also from compulsive behaviours and relationships with alcohol, drugs and gambling. Additionally, I facilitate groups for the addiction units of a private psychiatric hospital in central London.

Here are some of my thoughts on the winner of The William Hill Sports Book of the Year for 2011.

Robert Reng’s painful and moving biography of Robert Enke, the German international goalkeeper who stepped in front of an express train in November 2009, documents a life punctuated by loss and an adulthood haunted by fear and insecurity despite the presence of a loving wife, a supportive agent, good friends and a trusted psychiatrist.

What his book, A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke (Yellow Jersey 16.99) also does, is present us with the conundrums that are depression and anxiety, or more specifically their origins. Enke appeared to suffer from two significant periods of depression and anxiety and Reng puts the first down to events following FC Barcelona‘s 3-2 loss in the Spanish Cup to third division side Novelda. The second, at the height of his playing success, he fails to find a trigger for.

It was after the second period, following a period of treatment with a combination of antidepressants and cognitive behavioural techniques, while those around him thought they were beginning to recognize hints of recovery from his ‘Black Dog’, that Robert took his own life.

For those of you who have been following Matthew Johnstones images on SANE’s Facebook page, Matthew’s book ‘I Had A Black Dog’ is given to Robert and his agent to help them understand some of the things that are happening to him.

The ‘Tragedy’ in the title of Reng’s book, is that not only did Robert take his own life, but as a professional footballer he was unable to fully disclose the extent of how he was feeling. This is both a symptom of his condition, he had an anxiety that his state of mind would be discovered, and it compounded his condition in that he was unable to access the support he needed.

But footballers, in particular, seem to have no language with which to articulate these feelings; in our own game they resort to beating up their partners and colleagues; drinking themselves into a stupor, abusing substances to excess or gambling recklessly with significant financial loss. When someone like Sol Campbell does admit to some vulnerability and depth of feeling, they are ridiculed by the tabloid press and find it equally difficult to recover.

But for me, as a psychotherapist, another tragedy in Robert’s life was that despite being able to access a treatment of his choice, the treatment he was given was limited to a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral techniques which in the end failed to contain his suicidal intentions.

Robert Enke experienced so much loss in his life; his father left the family for another relationship when he was a teenager, returned and finally left again; Robert was East German and was separated from his extended family on his father’s side until re-unification and struggled with his identity on re-unification.
There was also, of course, all of the loss that the commoditization of his footballing skills brought. The move to the West, to Lisbon, Barcelona, Istanbul and then back to Barcelona, Tenerife and finally, to Hanover in Germany all in the space of 10 years.

Finally, the sad loss of his daughter, who was never expected to survive her gestation but who died when she was just two, following an operation to improve her hearing.

It seems that Enke never really addressed these complications in his life with a professional in any depth. What was it like when his father left, did he feel not wanted then, in the same way that he felt unwanted at Barcelona by the coach Louis Van Gaal. What did his nomadic life provoke in him, why did he feel compelled to move clubs, is the desire to win something the same as a desire not to lose? How did he process the loss of his daughter, both the difficult pregnancy when she was diagnosed with a heart birth defect, her early infancy and eventual death? Why did he feel that he could not conceive and parent his own child following Lara’s death and that his best option was to raise an adopted child? What was it like living with all of this when he was faced week in, week out with the possibility of losing games and his own highly visible part in that? What was it like to constantly feel that mixture of fear and responsibility that comes with being the last line of defence ?

It may have been that following his retirement and only when his career was over that he would find a way to address these questions. However, that was not to be and we can only speculate about the reasons for his death, the suicide note was never published. The idea that he would no longer be a burden to his wife and family and the lurking fear that he wouldn’t have to face the potential loss of his German place at the World Cup in South Africa 2010 seems likely to have been around.

Enke’s death was such a shock to everyone because he was solid, safe, dependable and a leader of men. He was loved by many.

On 15 November 2009, nearly 40,000 attendees filled the AWD-Arena for his memorial service. Enke's coffin, covered in white roses, was carried by six of his Hannover 96 teammates. He was then buried in Hannover, next to his daughter's grave. As a further mark of respect for their former team mate, the players of Hannover 96 displayed the number one in a circle on the breast of their jerseys, as a subtle tribute, for the rest of the football season.

I’d be interested to hear what those not interested in football made of this book, for those who do have an interest but little knowledge of depression and anxiety, this should be a compulsory read.

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