Twenty professional cricketers have used mental health support programmes recently, and a clinical psychologist says more are waiting to be seen.

Karen Nimmo, who will act as support for troubled batsman Jesse Ryder in his return to cricket in the cash-rich Indian Premier League, told the Weekend Herald that "serious psychological problems in sport is a great untapped well".

The Wellingtonian said the treatment of high-performance sports people had become virtually a full-time job in the past five years.

"There is pressure on the service," Ms Nimmo said. "Twenty [cricketers] have taken advantage, and there are others who would like the help if they had the opportunity."

Advertisement

New Zealand has fewer than 100 cricket professionals.

The manager of the NZ Cricket Players' Association, Heath Mills, said more funding was needed to ensure those who needed help got it.

"These issues range from depression, anxiety and panic attacks to low self-esteem and self-worth," he said. "They are exacerbated through long absences from family and loved ones in a high-pressure environment."

Mr Mills, who is also on the board of the Federation of Athletes, said the issue was not restricted to cricket and needed to be pushed to the forefront of the national sporting discussion.

A recent survey by the NZ Rugby Players' Association found 35 per cent of recently retired players had "feelings of despair or depression".

Chief executive Rob Nichol feels that figure might be under-reported, because of the tendency of New Zealand males to mask their feelings.

Mental health issues manifested themselves in different ways, and alcohol abuse was a common release, he said. But in the professional sporting context, the issues had a direct effect on performance.

Mr Mills said that if cricket identified that it had an issue and got some resources, "we will have improved performance and results".

"We have a responsibility to ensure we are not harming young athletes through their involvement in sport and that we leave them in a position to contribute to their families and communities when they finish," he said.

Despite progress being made by figures such as former All Black John Kirwan, who made public his battle with depression to campaign for men to ask for help, Ms Nimmo feels there is a long way to go.

"Sports need to be realistic about the number of ... serious problems that athletes face," she said.

"There are a number of good sports psychs, but I don't think sports have yet realised that they need to place attention on clinical issues in sport.

"The John Kirwan campaign led to a number of people who needed help seeking it, but equally there are people who are still in the 'harden up' school."

Mr Mills said he sees similar traits in other sports, but cricketers seem to have an acute vulnerability.

Cricket historian David Frith wrote By His Own Hand and Silence of the Heart, accounts of the lives and suicides of more than 80 cricketers.

In New Zealand, Ryder's issues have become public, and Lou Vincent and Sir Richard Hadlee have admitted to having had mental health issues.

"It's a tough, tough sport," Ms Nimmo said.

She said clinical issues were generally more prevalent in individual sports than team sports, except for cricket.

The common threads Ms Nimmo hears are the complex balance between individual performance and team requirements; the unforgiving nature that swiftly punishes batsmen's mistakes and gives them ample time to mull them over again and again; the lengthy tours that impact on relationships and career paths; and the need for different mindsets across the three formats.

Said Mr Mills: "I dread the day when I wake up and read that one of our players, former or current, has killed themselves."