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Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Let’s Talk About: Mental Health 

When it comes to athletics, we often focus on performance and physical health. “Are your legs tired?” “Do your muscles feel sore?” “How is your injury?” These aspects of health and performance ARE important, but we must emphasize mental health as much as we emphasize physical health. It’s important to recognize that anyone can suffer from mental health challenges, including athletes and it’s not a sign of weakness. Talking about and seeking support for our mental health should be as important and encouraged as seeing a doctor when we are sick or injured.

When we refer to mental health, what do we mean? 

Mental health can be thought of as our psychological, emotional, and social well-being. It includes our capability to feel, think, and act in ways that allow us to enjoy life and cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to our community (Slingerland, et al. 2019). 

When our psychological, emotional, or social well-being feels off, or has changed the way we feel, think, or behave, this can be a possible sign of mental health concern. This can lead to distress and impaired functioning in daily activities. The term mental illness refers to diagnosable mental conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and substance use disorders (Slingerland, et al. 2019). 

Mental health concerns that are seen in sport can include, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sleep disturbances, overtraining, post traumatic stress disorders, and more. 

You Are Not Alone

These challenges can occur on a spectrum, and it is normal to experience some symptoms of a mental health condition  while not meeting criteria for a clinical diagnosis of a mental illness. No matter what you are experiencing or to what degree you are struggling, your experience matters. Getting help is not something that needs to wait until it’s “bad enough”. Get help early and often. There is no shame in speaking to a mental health professional, coach, parent, or friend about what you are going through.

As you would regularly practice preventative recovery measures like foam rolling, prehab exercises, and strength training, we encourage athletes to do the same with mental health practices. Prioritizing good mental health habits will arm you with the tools to handle struggles down the road, big or small. 

Physical Health and Mental Health

Mental and physical health are intertwined and impact one another. Maintaining good mental health has positive impacts on our physical health. This can look like improved quality of life, increased performance in sport, improved recovery, and decreased risk for injury (Reardon et al, 2019). The opposite can also be true, as mental health struggles can negatively impact our physical health. Physical health challenges can also impact our mental health, as athletes are forced to take time off due to injury or general frustration due to poor performance. This relationship is ever-changing and requires regular practices to stay mentally and physically healthy while our body undergoes the stressors of athletics.

Mental Health by the Numbers

 

Personal stories help to bring light to the prevalence of mental health challenges that athletes face. Athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have bravely and powerfully spoken out about their individual mental health journeys and the importance of prioritizing mental health. Individual stories alongside a growing body of science can help us to understand just how prevalent mental health issues are among athletes and how best to address these concerning stats…

  1. Up to 35% of elite athletes experience a mental health condition (Reardon et al, 2019). 

  2. Mental health concerns like depression and eating disorders are prevalent in 10-25% of collegiate athletes (Reardon et al, 2019).

  3. In a study looking at the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on mental health among professional athletes, 22.2% of participants reported feeling down or depressed and 27.4% reported feeling nervous or anxious at least half of the days in the week (Roche et al, 2021).

Changing the Stigma

It is evident that there is a need for more open conversation and more widely available mental health resources and intervention. However, there has been a stigma surrounding mental illness. This can be a barrier to individuals feeling like they have the space, resources, and support to openly talk about how they are really doing and feeling. 

Mental health is critical to overall wellbeing and it is essential to talk about as it has major impacts on physical health. Should you feel like you need support, we encourage you to seek help. Reaching out for support can be hard. However, it is worth doing and it is admirable and inspiring. Head to our resources page for mental health support resources.

We want to shout it from the rooftops, you are enough and your feelings are valid.

Sources:  
Roche, M. , Sainani, K. , Noordsy, D. & Fredericson, M. (9000). Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health and Training in US Professional Endurance Athletes. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, Publish Ahead of Print , doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000983.
https://oce-ovid-com.laneproxy.stanford.edu/article/00042752-900000000-98830/HTML
Van Slingerland, K. , Durand-Bush, N. , Bradley, L. , Goldfield, G. , Archambault, R. , Smith, D. , Edwards, C. , Delenardo, S. , Taylor, S. , Werthner, P. & Kenttä, G. (2019). Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport (CCMHS) Position Statement: Principles of Mental Health in Competitive and High-Performance Sport. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 29 (3), 173-180. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000665.
https://oce.ovid.com/article/00042752-201905000-00001/PDF
Reardon CL, Hainline B, Aron CM, Baron D, Baum AL, Bindra A, Budgett R, Campriani N, Castaldelli-Maia JM, Currie A, Derevensky JL, Glick ID, Gorczynski P, Gouttebarge V, Grandner MA, Han DH, McDuff D, Mountjoy M, Polat A, Purcell R, Putukian M, Rice S, Sills A, Stull T, Swartz L, Zhu LJ, Engebretsen L. Mental health in elite athletes: International Olympic Committee consensus statement (2019). Br J Sports Med. 2019 Jun;53(11):667-699. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-100715. PMID: 31097450.
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/53/11/667.full.pdf
Reardon CL, Hainline B, Aron CM, Baron D, Baum AL, Bindra A, Budgett R, Campriani N, Castaldelli-Maia JM, Currie A, Derevensky JL, Glick ID, Gorczynski P, Gouttebarge V, Grandner MA, Han DH, McDuff D, Mountjoy M, Polat A, Purcell R, Putukian M, Rice SM, Sills A, Stull T, Swartz L, Zhu LJ, Engebretsen L. Infographic: Mental health in elite athletes. An IOC consensus statement. Br J Sports Med. 2020 Jan;54(1):49-50. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101087. Epub 2019 Jul 15. PMID: 31308063.
https://bjsm-bmj-com.laneproxy.stanford.edu/content/bjsports/54/1/49.full.pdf

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