Breaking the stigma of mental health in athletics
Dec 2, 2022
Athletics can be a beautiful thing. Hard-fought games can be the greatest feeling when it comes to success. Participating in sports helps maintain fitness, teaches one how to manage time, boosts friendships, and connects one with other peers and adults. Teens from different schools, communities, and backgrounds come together through sports.
While amazing things come from athletics, it can also provoke anxiety and depression. Because of the intensity, some coaches approach their players with, student athletes feel pressure to remain in the “athletic performance” aspect of the coach athlete relationship. Athletic directors are responsible for being aware of the causes and warning signs of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties among young athletes.
“Mental health has really impacted my life in recent months,” said Louis Degiulio, senior. “Hockey in specific, has also been affected. My love for the game and motivation to continue to get better has dwindled because of mental health factors.”
Michael Phelps, Kevin Love, Simone Biles, and Naomi Osaka, are all highly decorated athletes in their respective sports. While they have fame, fortune, record-breaking performances and a string of awards; behind their success hid a darker secret – depression.
More high school students are using anti-anxiety medications and dealing with depression than ever before. According to the National Federation Of State High Association, an estimated 31.9 percent of student-athletes have some form of anxiety disorder. Every disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioral symptoms.
“I started overthinking and doubting everything I did. I was scared to shoot, so I only passed and played defense-basically the bare minimum-but when I did score and played well, I felt as if I wasn’t good enough and still wasn’t doing enough for my coach and teammates,” said Jasmine DuPree, senior. “My goal is to change my team’s negative culture and bring more awareness to mental health and how people treat each other.”
Students may see athletics as a means of escape, but in the event that they haven’t yet figured out how to adapt to the weight of stress on or off the field, court or track, they are at risk for mental health problems. Students can use any number of ways to numb the pain of family issues, divorce, abuse, disappointment, dating, relationships, breakups, academic failure, and physical injury.
“Aside from playing soccer, I dealt with a lot of things off the field,” said Abby Hoiska, senior. “Having to balance my mental health while playing soccer wasn’t always the most ideal situation, especially since my attitude regarding my negative mental health would radiate onto the field. I never really shared my issues with my teammates or coaches, which also affected me because I just kept everything in.”
After many years of neglect of mental health and the stigma of hiding emotions, athletes, coaches, and school administrations all over the country are encouraging athletes to speak up about the problems they face within their sport. More and more professional athletes have been speaking out about the challenges they face when it comes to mental health.
There are many options for dealing with mental health issues, including chatting with a friend and listening to or sharing stories of mental health difficulties. It can be a powerful tool for those struggling to share personal stories in a safe environment.
Athletes are courageous and natural leaders who may be the key to overcoming the stigma behind discussing mental health. Real progress can be made in changing how we think and talk about mental health if we collaborate to include mental health in regular conversations.