Team GB's golden girl Maddie Hinch on mental health: 'There's nothing to be ashamed of'

Maddie Hinch won bronze at Tokyo 2020. Christopher Lee/Getty Images

When goalkeeper Maddie Hinch stepped onto the pitch for the bronze medal match at the Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo last year, memories of winning Olympic gold at Rio 2016 did not cross her mind.

It had been five years since Great Britain gripped the nation as they battled against the Netherlands in the women's hockey final. The BBC delayed the 10 o'clock news as the game was forced to a penalty shootout, and over 10 million people watched her save all four Dutch penalties to help Team GB to a historic Olympic title.

After that night in Brazil, things began to change for Hinch. The media portrayed her as a hero and she became a household name overnight, with more attention on her than ever before. There were high points -- an MBE and being named world's best goalkeeper for three consecutive years included -- but there were days where the lows far exceeded the highs, and days where all she wanted to do was leave hockey behind. It was days like this that led her to being diagnosed with depression in early 2020.

"I don't think I really ever got to grips with the attention," she told ESPN, reflecting on how she struggled to live up to her own expectations.

"A lot of it, I was creating these stories in my own head and putting an immense [amount] of pressure on myself.

"I felt like I had to be the superhuman that the media portrayed and I was trying too hard and trying to please everyone but myself. I was putting so much pressure on keeping everyone happy.

"After Rio, we had the World Cup two years later at home. It felt as though we had to repeat Rio, we had to do it at home in front of 10,000 people in a sold-out stadium. My name being chanted as we walked out, I just wasn't used to it."

This whirlwind after returning from Brazil left Hinch feeling tired and burnt out -- or at least, that's what she thought. She decided to rest, taking a three-month sabbatical from hockey in 2018; but after returning feeling fresh, she saw a downward spiral quickly happen again.

She admits she wasn't a pleasant teammate to be around when she was at her worst, recalling how it was the team's physio that first spotted some behaviours in her that resonated with depression, and pointed her in the direction of help.

"I never really looked at if I was actually dealing with some mental health issues," she explains. "I never for a second thought that was going on.

"I remember when they told me that they reckoned I was suffering from depression, thinking, 'oh, great.' As weird as that sounds it was like: 'Is that it, at least there's something going on that makes sense now about what the hell's going on inside my head and what I'm feeling.' There was an answer to it all and it was like a relief.

"Once you know what's going on, you can make the steps to manage it and get better, whereas before it was like, 'What the hell, I feel like I'm doing everything in my power to feel better but I'm not.'"

Slowly, Hinch began to tell those around her what was going on. She felt like she owed an explanation, especially to her teammates, who were worried about her.

She is happy now to speak about her depression. It's not something she has to carry with her, instead it's just a part of her life and something she manages on a daily basis through treatment and therapy -- just as she would an injury.

"There's nothing to be ashamed of at the end of the day. It's just like you would do if you had a broken elbow, you go get diagnosis and you get treatment on the way to getting fixed.

"I try to speak about it openly because I know a lot of people go through similar things and don't really know what's going on through their heads.

"And also, by explaining a bit about what I'd been through to get to this point, hopefully it allows one of my teammates, who no doubt will have similar experiences, to recognise it earlier than maybe I did and seek help earlier than I did. If it helps even just one of them, it was worth it."

It has taken time for Hinch to accept what she has been through, and although keeping balls out of the net is still her No. 1 priority, it has changed her attitude toward life on and off the pitch.

These days, she is conscious about not spreading herself too thin. When the Olympics were over, she put herself first, moving out to Europe to play for Dutch side HC Tilburg and focusing on investing time into supporting young hockey players through her MH1 app and hockey camps.

"It's been busy, but that's the life," she says. "I've got to make the most of it, just enjoy it more day by day rather than thinking too far ahead.

And if there is one thing Hinch is sure of, it is that she wouldn't change the past few years. She's grateful for all that has happened, and without it, maybe she wouldn't have brought home that bronze from Japan.

"It all happens for a reason, doesn't it?" she says. "I'm a firm believer of that."