Sports and Mental Health

On average, athletes are not as happy as society portrays them to be. Many collegiate and professional athletes suffer from anxiety disorders, depression, eating-disorders, and pain-medicine abuse. Injuries such as concussions have a great effect on athletes’ physical and mental well being. Many athletes mismanage their money and go broke while others (Olympians, low ranked tennis/golf pros) can barely break even playing professionally. Some athletes dedicate their entire childhoods to their sports only to burnout and quit.

With all the challenges and stresses of sports, more attention needs placed on the mental health of athletes. However, even with their mental health at risk, many athletes do not seek therapy.  In American culture, mental illnesses are stigmatized. People, especially athletes, think mental illnesses are a sign of weakness. Athletes think they are supposed to be tough and not show their true feelings. When they develop mental illnesses, they feel ashamed and embarrassed and are afraid to seek help. Mental illnesses are too serious to be left untreated. The stigma against mental illnesses needs to to be removed. Here are some ways to remove the stigma and encourage athletes to seek professional help:

  • Understand mental illnesses are not a sign of weakness. Anyone can develop them under certain conditions. The stresses of sports happen to be very conducive to mental illnesses. Know that you are not alone. There are many athletes suffering from mental illnesses.
  • View mental illness treatment like physical illness treatment. If your leg is broken, you wouldn’t ignore it. Why does your body deserve more attention than your mind?
  • The sports industry can be very cruel and selfish. Teams/coaches sometimes treat athletes like robots, only using them for wins/money. Athletes are not slaves, they are humans with dignity. If sports contribute to you developing a mental illness, don’t let them pressure you from not seeking help. You deserve to stand up for yourself and take time off for treatment.
Here are some actions you can take to help deal with the stresses of sports:
  • Most importantly, seek help from a professional psychologist when necessary.
  • Find balance in your life. Mental illnesses and burnout are most likely to occur when sports are over prioritized. When your entire self-identity revolves around sports, athletic failure can greatly harm your mental health. Never lose sight on the importance of things such as family, friends, religion, hobbies, fun, or gratitude. It’s OK to be obsessed with sports, just make sure your obsession helps you rather than controls you.