May is Mental Health Awareness month and while it is important to shed light on the impact of mental health for all people, I want to specifically draw attention to the staggering number of athletes that are impacted as well.
Global mental health statistics show that 1 in 4 people will be affected by a mental health illness at some point in their life. That is 25% of the global population – already a staggering number in itself.
When it comes to athletes, that number jumps even higher
Thirty-five percent of athletes struggle with their mental health.
“Among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety.” (Athletes for Hope).
“With young adults, especially college athletes, the statistics are startling: 33% of all college students experience significant symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Among that group, 30% seek help. But of college athletes with mental health conditions, only 10% do.” (Athletes for Hope).
There are a myriad of reasons for the extra pressure that athletes feel in their daily lives and how that can negatively impact their mental state if they are not equipped to cope with those challenges.
Speak Up & Share Your Story
This is why it is so incredibly important for athletes to speak up and share their experience – to encourage other athletes to take action and find support rather than to suffer in silence.
We are starting to see both professional, Olympic, and student-athletes share their stories and put their mental health first. Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Kevin Love, and Victoria Garrick are a few names that come to mind.
Phelps openly shares his first battle with depression post-Olympics – something that many Olympians experience once the training, competition, and hype of the games comes to a close and they go back to business as usual.
Simone Biles put herself on the sidelines during the Olympic games because she knew that her mental state was not where she needed it to be in order to compete at her best but more importantly, to ensure her own safety on the floor.
Kevin Love wrote an essay, Everyone is Going Through Something, which outlines his mental health wake-up and is now a major mental health advocate in the sports world.
Victoria Garrick was a collegiate volleyball player at USC who battled with mental health and body dysmorphia. She hosted a TedX Talk to raise awareness for athlete mental health that paints a very telling picture of the day-to-day experience of the majority of collegiate athletes.
Mental Training and Mental Health
As a former professional athlete, I understand the struggles that athletes face on their journey to the top levels of their sport because I’ve lived it myself.
I’ve experienced the performance breaking pressure, having to balance strict training schedules with a full academic calendar, the stress of preparing for exams while maintaining my ability to be a peak performer, and the disappointment when I was unable to live up to unrealistic standards that were set for me growing up in the sports world.
There are many factors that contribute to the stresses of athletes but the biggest hurdle that sports face is that the majority of the provided resources and support are REACTIVE instead of PROACTIVE.
Many athletes don’t seek help from a therapist or psychologist until they are in a performance slump or are in the depths of depression and anxiety or have a traumatic experience that opens their eyes to the emotions they are feeling and the dangers of the ways they are coping (such as substance abuse).
Mental training is a PROACTIVE approach to support athletes not only in their sports career but with their mental health as well. This training equips them with the strategies and tools that can help them cope with the challenges that come up in all other areas of life.
Mental performance coaches are not a substitute for therapists or psychologists. Rather, they play an important role in helping athletes learn the tools that can serve as proactive measures to handle stress in all areas of life and simultaneously increase their performance results in the game.
Taylor Cook | High Performance Coach