In honour of Mental Health Awareness month, I wanted to have a mental health chat with all of the athletes in our lockerroom.
Very few people are immune to experiencing mental health issues and athletes are no exception. Despite their active and healthy lifestyle, and physically fit appearance, athletes are just as human as the rest of the world and suffer from poor mental health too.
When an athlete experiences an injury, they are treated by a team of trainers, physiotherapists, and doctors to create a recovery plan to help the athlete get back into competition as quickly and safely as possible. These plans help guide the athlete through the recovery process, allowing them to complete the necessary steps to heal and rehabilitate their body to return to play.
But what happens when athletes experience mental injuries?
Often times athletes play through these mental injuries. There are a few reasons for this. First, as athletes it is what we have been conditioned to do from a young age. We are taught to be tough, to leave any and all problems at the door and keep grinding through. The logic is that if we aren’t sick or injured, we should be able to compete. Second, the emotional side of sport is often overlooked as having much affect on how we show up to competition. But the reality is that how we feel off the field will directly affect how we perform on the field. Lastly, these injuries aren’t visible so it can be harder to identify the cause of the symptoms we are experiencing – which can be extremely isolating.
These injuries are invisible, which means most of the time mental disorders in athletes go undiagnosed and untreated and they suffer in silence. However, even when athletes do talk about their mental health, the recovery process can be difficult because results cannot be measured in the same way as physical injuries. We can use emotional scales to track how we are feeling from day to day, but emotions are very subjective to external stimuli and change minute to minute, day to day, and week to week.
To make matters worse, mental health disorders often carry a negative stigma with them; this includes social stigmas and perceived stigmas. For athletes, mental health disorders can often be associated with weakness. As an athlete who has struggled with anxiety and depression, knowing that mental disorders are attributed with weakness can make it very difficult to perform some days. The idea of being perceived by teammates and coaches as “weak” can fester, and it can trigger self-doubt and negative self-talk: “maybe I am weak” or “maybe I’m not good enough” which then turns into a vicious cycle of not wanting to seek help.
More and more we have seen athletes speaking out about their battles with mental health – Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Serena Williams to name a few – and there is such power in all their stories. It might seem insignificant to the people that share their stories but sharing their experience positively affects those that are struggling with their mental health and can act as a light at the end of the tunnel.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the right kind of support and have to fight through their battles alone – which is extremely difficult. If you are suffering with poor mental health but don’t have a strong support system, I encourage you to reach out to someone. Most high schools/colleges/universities offer free counselling to students. If you feel as if you have no where else to turn, you can find resources here.
Last week’s Inside the Athletic Mind podcast episode, Coach Lauren and I have a mental health chat to remind you that you are people before athletes and sometimes that can be hard to see because our identity is so deeply wrapped up in our sport but how you are feeling is just as important as the next person. Lauren and I share some of our struggles with mental health and some practical tools to help anyone that may be struggling right now.
– Coach Taylor