One thing that I continually see in the BJJ community is its members preaching about the benefits of grappling and I agree. Starting BJJ was one of the best decisions I have ever made, I’ve met some amazing people, learned some great skills and now hurt all the time (okay, maybe the last one wasn’t a benefit, but the pain is worth it!). BJJ has a lot of benefits, but its important to remember it’s not a cure for everything and pretending it is is dangerous and disrespectful to those who have lost their lives to suicide.
I know of multiple high level black belts that have commited suicide and I everytime I hear someone reccomend jiu jitsu over going to see a therapist I die a little inside. The world is progressing in regards to acceptance of mental health conditions and there is a lot of great free help out there for those struggling, but along with the acceptance of mental health conditions has come a comfortablity in giving advice. Some people who have had mild depression or anxiety disorders have found BJJ and it has made there life a lot better ant that’s great, but its not enough for everyone and that’s okay.
If we tell everyone that jiu jitsu will save them and they find themselves feeling worse when they start it they will feel like failures. I know amazing grapplers who feel so distraught sometimes that they can’t leave their house let alone go to a gym and that doesn’t make them a weak person.
I feel like BJJ and sports in general are a great outlet for mental health. The truth is the physical and mental benefits from BJJ can be gained from cardio exercise (not running with my knees) and socialising, BJJ isn’t a magic depression cure it’s just another tool in fighting it and sometimes its not enough or even a right fit.
If someone you love has depression telling them to start jiu jitsu should be very low on your list of suggestions. Remember just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for everyone and the first port of call should always be a primary care doctor or a counsellor.
Likewise if you are suffering from mental health issues and you are finding that you no longer take enjoyment from BJJ or you notice that you are taking a bad day at the gym to heart and beating yourself up you should notice that BJJ isn’t everything.
There is a lot of pressure to turn up to the gym and everyone is chasing promotions and comparing themselves to others and often this means they are reluctant to take time off to focus on personal issues. If you notice a training partner is acting differently reach out to them and see how they’re doing, likewise if a regular partner disappears suddenly you should get in touch with them (unless they just got their blue belt, that’s par for the course).
This article isn’t here to belittle the joy jiu jitsu can bring, it’s simply a reminder that BJJ isn’t everything. Depression is bigger than BJJ, it’s bigger than most people can imagine, but it is beatable and if you need help ask for it. Don’t train through it and expect everything to be fine.