Money Smart Athlete Blog

Mental health issues have been silently crippling athletes for decades

Jul 28, 2021 | Special Themes

By George Georgiades, Contributor

Athletes often put their bodies through rigorous training and expose themselves to many physical risks; at the same time though, they seem to neglect their mental health and stability.  Mental illness is often overlooked by coaches, teachers, and parents of athletes as well. It is difficult for people to understand that the brain is just as important as the body when it comes to being a healthy athlete. This article will explore how mental health issues in athletes are just as important as physical injuries.

Athletes are often expected to be tough, but having mental health issues can be just as bad for their performance as a physical injury. However, many athletes do not get the help they need because they are afraid of the stigma of mental illness. Sport is a field where self-confidence and self-worth are constantly challenged. These athletes spend hours in training, competing, traveling, and studying. The high-pressure environment of high-level sports and the lack of control that athletes have over their careers can easily lead to mental health problems. Mental health issues can quickly distract the athletes and hinder their goals. It is challenging to deal with these issues when everyone around them seems perfect, strong, and able to handle everything that life can throw at them.

The causes that lead to mental health problems vary. The media puts a lot of pressure on athletes and it has a significant impact on their psychology and mental state. The media play an essential role in the perception of the fans regarding the success or failure of a team as a whole, or of an athlete individually.

An additional factor, which mainly concerns the athlete’s level of performance, is the behavior of sponsors or fans. Athletes who feel pressured or challenged regarding their performance may become depressed and turn to substance abuse as a means to combat stress and depression. All of these different stressors can lead an athlete into a vicious cycle of severe mental health problems.

In addition to the above mentioned factors, some mental health problems can manifest as a result of the personality of some athletes. It is very common for athletes who are introverts to feel more isolated and they often render themselves unable to participate or feel that they are not accepted by the rest of the team. This social isolation can lead them to try to find alternative means of acceptance, which are often not compatible with the behavior that an athlete should have.

Some will do so using drugs, alcohol or other substances which will give them instant gratification to the feelings of depression.  This fact, along with the lack of proper support, can psychologically “sink” them, by magnifying their mental problems, and may cause irreparable damage to their performance as athletes if they fail to overcome their grim psychological and mental state.

Unfortunately, there is a significant gap for support in this area. Mental health issues in athletes are still not as recognized in the mainstream as other significant illnesses. It is an issue that should undoubtedly receive serious attention from the competent bodies. The necessary resources should be provided to create the necessary facilities so that every athlete can receive anonymous medical support, guidance, or advice whenever they encounter a problem that affects their mental health.

Appropriate training seminars should also be conducted to help coaches, parents, and any other person in the athletes’ support circle to enable them to identify cases where an athlete is showing signs of mental health problems. Training programs should be delivered at regular intervals to the athletes as well so that they can understand the importance of mental health and the need to seek medical help.

For more information and a discussion on mental health and its silent signs, you may contact us at [email protected].