entertainment

Former Olympian Leisel Jones shared a powerful message about mental illness on The Project.

Brava, Leisel.

Former Olympian Leisel Jones has a lot to be proud about. But her candid words about mental illness are one of her most important contributions so far.

Jones, who has recently written a warts-and-all book about her life and career called Body Lengths, shared a powerful message about depression on The Project last night.

Post continues after video:

The 30-year-old spoke about the depression she suffered after winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

She said she wanted to share her tale as “a positive story for other people, so that they could look at it and go ‘you know what? I’m not alone in this’.”

“I wanted to go into full depth because I wanted people to realise that it can be really dark. I wanted people to feel like they weren’t alone, that sports people can go thorough these things as well and can still be going through a really hard time,” she added.

“It is pretty chilling and I think at the time you just get so caught up in it’s almost like you’re in a black cloud… it’s almost like it just consumes you and you’re just stuck in this whole environment where you’re just stuck in your head and you can’t get out of it. ”

Jones spoke on The Project about the depression she suffered after her 2008 gold medal win. (Screenshot: TEN)

The Project host Waleed Aly asked if increasing incidences of mental health issues amongst elite sportspeople could point to a broader problem in our sporting culture.

“Is there something wrong with sport? Has sport become too professional, the demands just too much?” he asked.

Jones responded: “There’s a massive amount of pressure now.

“I think it comes from ourselves; as athletes we’re wired very, very differently. We’re a different kind of breed and we just put so much pressure on ourselves to perform.

“And when you think about it, particularly in the Olympics, the difference between gold and silver can be .01 of a second and an Olympic silver medal is just not good enough … and I think that’s where we’re going wrong.”

leisel jones the project
Jones after her 2008 win. (Photo: Getty Images)
ADVERTISEMENT

But she made it clear that the problem is not only sports-related, citing a statistic comparing deaths as a result of suicide to the road toll.

“When you look at suicide in general for young people … I saw a statistic, it was that 22,000 people had died from suicides alone and then the next one was 800 for car accidents,” she said.

“It’s so stunning and it’s so horrific that our young people are going through this.”

Leisel Jones on the cover of the Good Weekend.

Jones was recently profiled in Good Weekend magazine. In that article, she recalls lying in bed after the gold medal win thinking: “You’ve won the gold! Achieved your dream! This is the part where you’re ecstatic. You should be over the moon!”

The win didn’t feel like she expected, she said,”[b]ecause even as a gold medallist, you still have to get up in the morning. You still have to eat your Weet-Bix and brush your teeth. Life goes on,” she went on.

“It was stupid to think all that would change. Yet somehow, I now realise, I thought things would be different.”

Thank you, Leisel Jones, for your honesty.

Jones’ book Body Lengths is published by Black Inc. Books and is available in all good bookshops nationally in Australia and New Zealand.