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The end of a taboo? Rugby player in depression is no longer alone

Depression can affect rugby players when their chosen or suffered career ends, but also during. Drawing. – Charly Triballeau /

  • The Provale “well-being” unit provides psychological support to high-level rugby players who apply for their union.
  • Two former pillars, forced to end their careers due to injury, used this painful experience to help their peers.

This season, Provale, the players' union of
rugby, launched two new products: a medical commission and a well-being unit. The first entity seems to flow naturally in a sport with increasingly harsh contacts. The second, which provides psychological (but also dietary) support to members, was just as necessary, according to Mathieu Giudicelli.

"We are talking about a 'little death' for the retirement sport," said the deputy director general of Provale, behind the initiative, which has already received "some feedback". "It is real and it must really be taken into account. "The former pillar of Montpellier, Mont-de-Marsan, Tarbes and Biarritz suffered to find out. On March 8, 2018, the front row, then 28, left the Aimé-Giral stadium in Perpignan on a stretcher during a Pro D2 match. The last of his career, before an emergency operation, for a double lumbar hernia.

"I had very difficult moments," said Vincent Giudicelli's older brother, the current hooker at the MHR. Physically, I still have after-effects, I walk with a crutch. But also on a mental level. We are the first generation to have known only rugby pro. Since I was 18, I was paid to play rugby, I only knew that. So with this sudden stop, I was completely lost. I no longer knew what I was used for. My family has helped me a lot. But I said to myself: "Who is all alone, how does he do it?" "

Psychology and nutrition

The well-being unit of the Toulouse-based union has a dietitian and nutritionist, Mathias Vidal (30), a former back from Béziers, as well as a psychopractor, the South African Pat Barnard (38). The ex-pillar, 2008 English champion with the Wasps, has been living in Corrèze since the end of his career at Brive. He also suffered a retirement, then a period of wandering. Five years ago, recurrent knee pain forced him to stop.

"You wonder:" Who am I, if I am no longer a rugby player? " It’s a real existential crisis. Barnard then completed the studies started in his country and then continued in London. He who had suffered from not being able to confide his problems to a connoisseur of the specifics of ovalism made himself available to his peers. "I have known players who have stopped and are completely lost. My goal is not to leave my "brothers" like that. "

Pat Barnard in the Brive colors after a victory against Stade Français in the Top 14 on February 15, 2014. – Diarmid Courrèges /

The former pillar consults by videoconference or moves to "be a shoulder, someone to talk to, who can understand". He personalizes his methods, and can use hypnosis as well as EMDR therapy, based on sensory stimulation by eye movements, still not widely used in France. The adoption Briviste explains that high performance athletes, and rugby players in particular, display during their career levels of neurotransmitters twice higher than those of the “normal” population, in particular in terms of oxytocin, endorphin and serotonin, the latter playing a major role in depression.

A population more prone to depression than the average

So when everything stops and the levels go down … "We are twice as likely to have behavioral problems and to suffer from depression than the general population," said the specialist. These concerns, still taboo, can also occur during the course of a career, as the cases of Mathieu Bastareaud and Pascal Papé, to name only two French internationals, have shown.

"In our sport, we have been taught not to show our weaknesses, to work out on our own," continues Mathieu Giudicelli. The uprooting can increase the difficulties, and lead to the worst, as proved by the suicide of the Fijian pillar of Tarbes Isireli Temo in November 2016. "There are populations more at risk like the islanders, with the changes of life and culture, continues the head of Provale. But all players can experience depression. We try to be vigilant, to detect risky behavior. "

Even if, in the end, the process can only come from the player alone, often very poor when it comes to quitting group life, with an established status and a generally enviable salary, to move into a shadowy existence.