Athletes Transforming the Mental Health Stigma

Published by Susan Zaro on

Mental health issues and athletes are at the forefront of media discussion these days. An individuals mental health issue may be cushioned or exasperated by athletic demands. Familiar routines in an athlete’s environment are often provided by coaches, team-mates, peers and athletic events. This creates a cycle of predictability providing a familiar rhythm and flow of seasonal sport involvement. Sometimes shifts due to a debilitating injury, or more subtle and progressive increases of stressors can potentially develop into a mental health issue. 

 Mental health issues are not unusual within the athletic population. Issues that create shifts in an athlete’s life that can lead to coping difficulties include:

  • Transitions to a new team or club: A new position on a team or a new role can be an adjustment.
  • Switching to a new coach or coaching staff: Often a new coach has new rules and may communicate differently than a past coach.
  • Team dynamic issues: When players move on to another team past familiar team dynamics are altered. 
  • Family issues: Athletes who are the “star” in a family can feel the pressure to continue within that role even when they no longer wish to.
  • Self expectations: Athletes need to work out reasonable expectations as they progress in their sport. The field naturally becomes more competitive and athletes need to put in more & more time to remain in the forefront in their sport. 
  • Expectations from others: When athletes are successful they often feel the need to live up to the next big success time after time. They often say they don’t want to disappoint coaches, family friends.
  • Injury: Injury will happen to all athletes at some point during participation in their sport. A sudden injury can be very impactful on an athlete’s mental health. 
  • Burn-out: Athlete’s need to manage their time and balance competition/training, with rest/recovery, time off.
  • Relationship issues: Athletes like all people have relationship issues that can create stressors. 
  • Social justice issues: Racism, equity, LGBTQ+, mental health provisions. More athletes are speaking up on these issues and asking for organizational changes. 

Every athlete with a mental health issue has a unique story that went unchecked for too long and over time developed into anxiety/depression or unhealthy coping behaviors. These twelve highly visible athlete’s have been affected by mental health issues. They are publicly stepping up to inspire athlete’s who are coping with mental health issues and encouraging them to seek the help that is available.

Photo credit: Connor Coyne
Photo credit: Valentin Balan
Photo credit: Jose Morales