I think it’s fair to say that sports are a captivating form of entertainment that we have. It’s a place where you must combine the physical and strategic aspects to succeed. But one aspect that is equally as important as the two previously mentioned – is the mental health of each athlete. Let me start by saying that in no way am I a doctor. Still, in recent years mental health has become more of a talking point due to athletes discussing it and making sure it doesn’t go away. However, it still feels like it’s being overlooked in terms of their challenges and their resilience towards mental well-being. In this blog post, let’s uncover the hidden struggle behind these athletes and understand how they continue to break the stigma surrounding mental health.
The Pressure Cooker
Whether you’re playing for your high school football team or the Philadelphia Eagles, pressure will always be on you because of the expectations placed on an individual. Whether by the team, player, or family, it’s a never-ending pressure cooker. They’re expected to play at a peak level and support the people they love while constantly being evaluated by coaches, staff, and fans. This only grows as a player gets older and becomes more successful, which can ultimately impact their mental well-being.
Let’s dive into specific challenges that athletes encounter regarding mental health.
In the NBA, players like DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Love, and Paul George have been outspoken about mental health and how they face it. DeRozan has talked about how he has faced depression and his personal struggles with it. “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day,” he told Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. Depression is something that takes over a person and is met with the “strong urge to pull away from others and shut down,” says Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D., author of books including The Depression Cure and associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. It’s essential to have a positive way of coping, whether it’s family, friends, your job, or anything else. DeRozan relies on family and basketball. He wants to continue being a better partner, father, and basketball player, which fuels him.
In the NFL, players like Dak Prescott, Bobby Wagner, and A.J. Brown have been at the forefront of mental health in the league. Dak Prescott, the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, discussed his emotional distress due to an array of events in his life in an interview with "In Depth With Graham Bensinger.” In 2013, his mother passed away after her battle with colon cancer, struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in that same year, his brother, Jace, died due to suicide. All of that took a toll on him and led to him struggling with anxiety and depression before and after the death of his brother. "I think it's huge to talk. I think it's huge to get help. And it saves lives," Prescott said, advocating for more people to get help. For some, it’s hard to get help either because it’s hard to share, they feel people won’t understand them, or they don’t have anyone to talk to. Sports organizations must create safe spaces for athletes to speak to someone in their facilities. They have gyms and training rooms for the athletes to train their bodies. The brain is more important than the body, so they need to train their brain and prepare for their respective sport.
Many athletes deal with mental health, so to put it in perspective, below are some documented athletes that have struggled with their mental health:
- DeMar DeRozan
- Paul George
- Kevin Love
- Dak Prescott
- A.J. Brown
- Michael Phelps
- Serena Williams
- Lane Johnson
- Hayden Hurst
The hidden struggle of the mental health of athletes is essential and requires understanding. We must acknowledge people’s challenges and provide the necessary resources to break the stigma surrounding it. Let’s create an environment by welcoming open conversations so athletes can thrive physically and mentally.
For anyone interested in mental health issues or experiencing problems, visit the National Institute of Mental Health website. For immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).