This very personal experience for Ian was, perhaps not surprisingly, discussed very publicly by media outlets and reported by many in a sensationalist fashion. Television news channels had long distance footage of Ian's mother on the phone outside her home; prying on her during a personal phone call. While speculative stories featured claims about a supposed drug addiction that Ian was suffering.
As I heard this story unfold my response changed. Initially I was sceptical about what level of truth there was behind the story. Too often there are stories in the media with half-truths or unsubstantiated claims. I understand that with the increase of online media has come increasingly tight deadlines for journalists and therefore often limited time for verifying and checking facts. For this reason I believed my scepticism was justified.
As the story unfolded and credible sources spoke about the specifics and details of what Ian was going through I started to reflect on the irony in the story. It was the world-wide media who had escalated Ian Thorpe's profile; marvelling at his amazing sporting achievements and putting him on a pedestal with hero status. Now, it was the media who were destroying that hero image and instead telling the story of a fallen hero. Why do the media do this?
Why do the public relish in stories such as this? Basic market forces dictate that demand drives sales, so it seems logical to conclude that the media are only successful in 'making' and then 'breaking' heroes because there is an audience who want to hear or read all about it.
Behind this recent story about Ian Thorpe appears to be a young man who is struggling with a significant life transition as he tries to create a career for himself beyond international swimming. Ian has previously openly admitted to suffering from depression. Depression is a very common mental illness with reportedly one in seven Australian's experiencing it during their lifetime (www.blackdoginstitute.org.au).
With a mental health issue that impacts so many Australians I believe it is even more critical to have a community response in circumstances such as this that is compassionate and supportive rather than critical and voyeuristic.
In the past Ian bravely and openly revealed his battle with depression. That bravery deserves a better response than the undercurrent of criticism and judgement that I see in these recent media reports.
As an alternative, I am choosing to focus on the positive achievements and contributions Ian Thorpe has made to the community so far in his life; his charity work, his example as a person who has worked hard towards achieving his goals while also demonstrating an ability to be vulnerable as he has shared news of his depression. I am sure Ian has friends and family who could also add many other positive character traits to this short list.
These will be the things that I choose to keep in mind when I hear Ian's name talked of in the media and amongst the community at this time.
I wish Ian all the very best as he battles his health issues and looks towards his future.
Merewyn Foran is married, a step mother to two daughters and a marketing and fundraising consultant in Melbourne.
Merewyn Foran's archive of previous articles can be found www.pressserviceinternational.org/merewyn-foran.html