4 Reasons Athletes’ Mental Health Gets Overlooked – Articles and Videos, Behavioral Health, Featured, Health Topics, Neuroscience

October 21, 2021

Written by: Katie Wohnker

Lynne Johnson, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps – some of the world’s greatest athletes have come forward with courage to speak out for the need to prioritize their mental health.

Kristen Kane, a clinical and sports neuropsychologist, delves into why the mental health of athletes is constantly neglected and what we can do to help.

  1. Mixed messages. “We care, but are you better yet?”

    “There is a mixed message, athletes are told that their mental health is important, but it does not always come true,” notes Dr. Kane.

    “For athletes with concussions, their mental health can play a huge role in their recovery, and unfortunately, some athletes are still asked by their coaches, ‘When is this going to end? “

  2. Prioritize physical health over mental health.

    “Once Simone Biles announced her withdrawal, she was met with criticism, and this is what athletes fear most, being seen as weak or resigned by their coaches or teammates. It is as if their mental health is not as important as their physical health,” Dr. Kane adds. “.

    “They may not feel like they have a say in their own bodies, or that it matters. Simone stated that she was surprised when people actually came out to support her.”

  3. An imbalance in training and rest.

    “Young sports have evolved with more training, higher levels of competition, and multiple environments to compete in; it can be really difficult to balance work and rest,” says Dr. Keen. “Many elite athletes are perfectionists, and when it comes to their mental health, they have They are putting it in the back to focus on their physical health instead.”

    Athletes are usually praised for their drive, perseverance, and determination, but rarely are they praised for taking a break or a mental health day.

  4. Depression can be misdiagnosed as symptoms of overtraining.

    Symptoms of overtraining overlap with symptoms of depression, including:

    • Fatigue or low energy
    • low motivation
    • mood changes
    • mental fog
    • interrupted sleep schedule
    • Difficulty concentrating

“Athletes are especially prone to a poor prognosis,” Dr. Kane explains. “Some practitioners will view symptoms only from a physical perspective, rather than the biopsychosocial model, where we recognize multiple components — their biological, social, and psychological well-being.”

Without looking at the whole picture of an athlete’s health, a mental health condition can be misdiagnosed as a physical problem.

Tips for parents of young athletes

  • Note any changes in your child’s mental health.

“For parents and coaches, acknowledge that these children are under a lot of stress and pay attention to signs and symptoms that could indicate changes in mental health,” shares Dr. Keen.

“Changes in personality are usually one of the first signs you might notice, along with mood swings, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sleep disturbances, lethargic behavior or withdrawal from friends or teammates. Sometimes the symptoms won’t be obvious, but it’s just a matter of being aware and getting along with them.” .

  • Have open conversations about mental health needs.

Have open conversations with your children and athletes, and acknowledge mental health issues that they are a real part of an athlete’s journey, notes Dr. Keen.

Studies show that mental health issues are as common among athletes as the general public.

Lynne Johnson, an offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, has been forced into a prolonged absence after expressing suffering from depression and anxiety.

“Lynn has come forward saying that he has kept his struggles with mental health subdued – which is incredibly common for athletes. They may say they don’t want to be seen as a poor competitor or less competitive,” adds Dr. Kane.

“It is very important to establish a foundation of trust with our children and athletes when they are young – let them know that it is OK and it is safe to share these feelings.”

  • Keep mental health and physical health on the same level.

“Just as you wouldn’t send your child to the playground with an untreated fracture, you can’t ignore mental health issues, as they can cause other injuries,” Kane adds. Mental health should be prioritized just as much as physical health. You can’t stress the value of self-care, it’s a vital life skill that can be learned early on,” concludes Kane.

Next steps and resources:

The materials provided through HealthU are intended for general information use only and should not replace the advice of your doctor. Always consult your doctor for individual care.

Leave a Comment