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Victoria Pendleton opens up about mental health battle

Olympic sprint gold medalist says addressing mental health issues brought her back from suicidal thoughts

Joe Robinson
23 Jan 2019

Olympic track cycling gold medalist Victoria Pendleton has revealed how suffering with mental health difficulties caused her to consider suicide. In an in-depth interview with The Daily Telegraph, the former track sprinter discussed how she suffered from mental health issues after her career, being diagnosed with severe depression after returning from an unsuccessful charity climb of Mount Everest.

The 38-year-old also split from her husband of five years in 2018, saying that they had grown apart, with Pendleton then describing how she had planned to take her own life by drug overdose. 

'I had accumulated one-and-half times the dose of drugs to kill myself,' Pendleton said. 'I had it there, in front of me, and I knew how much it would take. And how long I would have to be left for it definitely to work.

'It wasn’t even like I was really upset about it. I just felt numb.'

Pendleton then commented on the guilt she felt for considering to take her own life before then asking her mum for forgiveness had she gone through with the act.

'But I really wanted my family to be able to forgive me. Because ... I wouldn’t do it to hurt them on purpose. You just can’t understand how much I was suffering on the inside.'

The multiple World Champion only sought help through former British Cycling psychiatrist Steve Peters after suffering a panic attack at a friend's house, ringing Peters one early morning.

'It must have been about 6:30am, I had been awake for hours. I remember lying there with tears rolling down the side of my face. Not really crying, but just feeling a sense of hopelessness. I was so low. So helpless,' admitted Pendleton.

'And I just thought, "I don’t want to see tomorrow". I’m so grateful that he [Peters] picked up because I don’t think I would be here if he hadn’t.'

Thankfully, a solo holiday to France and following trip to Costa Rica saw Pendleton 'turn a corner'.

'I guess it was a very unconventional thing to do, it was against the recommendation of my family and almost everyone else,' Pendleton told The Telegraph.

'They were like "you’re going to travel by yourself. Be on your own. If you feel bad who is going to be there for you?" But I just really wanted to do it. To try to find my own way through it. I came back from Costa Rica feeling 50 per cent better.'

The stigma around mental health in sport, and more generally, has only recently been challenged with it now finally being considered as an issue that needs attention. 

Pendleton is not alone in her battle with countless cases from a broad spectrum of sports being brought to light in recent years and even within the cycling community.

Last year, former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich penned an open letter addressing issues with mental health and subsequent substance abuse.

After being admitted to a psychiatric hospital,  Ullrich then sought therapy to help combat these issues, saying, 'I will be the old, new Jan, who will do everything and will fight to defeat his demons and to rediscover the light with new energy and zest for life.'

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