Many people grow up playing sports, and some continue to participate in high school and college. Others become professional athletes, spending their entire lives to be the top athlete. While millions of people are participating in athletics in the United States, it is common to suffer injuries during practice or competition. According to Stop Sports Injuries, it is estimated that there are 2 million high school sports injuries each year.
Dr. Shelly T. Sheinbein, Ph.D. is a doctoral intern at Northwestern University Counseling and Psychological Services, she states there are an estimated seven million sport and recreation-related injuries per year, not including sports injuries that may go unreported. Some injuries require the athlete take the entire season off for high school and college students, and few other injuries would end a professional athlete’s career.
It’s more than an injury
For a lot of players, the sport they play provides them self-esteem, friends, stress relief, and realistic goals. Therefore, if the injury keeps them from participating the sports athletes will experience a wide range of emotions. Recovery time differ depending on the injury. Sheinbein reveals the psychological impact is usually greater when they require longer rehabilitation. It is common for athletes to feel discouraged and stressed after an injury. Some common emotional responses during their recovery include anger, sadness, depression, sleeping problems, lack of motivation, and loss of appetite. These symptoms could be associated with loss of athletic identity such as loss of skills and practices and feeling socially isolated.
Re-injury anxiety is a common psychological response for injured athletes. Especially for those with a torn ligament in the knee. They often feel anxious returning to sports as they fear they might re-injure themselves. Athletes who had a serious injury such as ACL reconstruction surgery often times develop a hesitance or a favoritism to the injured areas when returning to practice. The anxiety of re-injury affects the performance, many feel frustrated to regain ability.
The culture of sports
It is uncommon for athletes to open up about their mental health. Many athletes see mental health as a sign of weakness, so they usually keep it to themselves. Also, some are worried that mental illnesses will impact their selection on the team along with affecting their relationships between coaches and teammates. Athletes are used to “play through the pain” sports culture, assuming their mental illnesses will heal by itself.
Athletes need support
A mental illness, especially after an injury, isn’t something to take lightly. Hiding emotions isn’t a solution, athletes must seek the help they need. If mental illnesses are left untreated, the disorder can often worsen as time goes by. The better the mindset that athletes are in after an injury can also speed up the recovery process. Depressive symptoms can affect the recovery time after a serious injury. The healthier the mind, the quicker the athlete will recover from the injury.
ATHLETES WHO HAVE OPENED UP ABOUT THEIR MENTAL HEALTH
DO NOT HIDE, YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Andy Murray is a professional tennis player from Scotland. He retired from tennis after experiencing depression, anxiety and profound stress due to his hip injury. ‘You have to be open and honest about your thoughts and the feelings you have. If you don’t, and you lie about things to make yourself look stronger and tougher, it’s pointless,’ shares Murray who talks openly about his mental health.
Larry Sanders was an American NBA Basketball Player. He sat out for the 2013-2014 season because of his injuries; he was dealing with depression, anxiety, and mood swings. In 2015, he walked out of the NBA to get treatment for his mental illnesses.
Call to Action
ASKING FOR HELP IS A SIGN OF STRENGTH
The video above is made by the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan sees many athletes are afraid to speak up about mental illnesses, so they partnered with NCAA and created Athletes Connected. Their Athletes Connected program is a safe environment for athletes to get the help and support athletes need. Having a program such as Athletes Connected which offers health-promoting environments for injured athletes can be very beneficial for many athletes. Creating more awareness in schools and universities is extremely important.
All athletes need to recognize that sharing about their mental illnesses does not make them less of an athlete. A real athlete will be honest and get the support they needed to become a better athlete in the long run.
THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH IN SPORTS IS AN ISSUE THAT HAS TO CHANGE
The culture athletes are living makes it harder to open up about mental health. When someone is physically injured, we can see that; but when someone is suffering mentally, no one can see that. Hence, it is up to the athlete to decide to get help or not. We need to make a change as a society to break the stigma of mental health, so mental health will be easier for everyone to open up. Athletes cannot be seeing mental illness as a sign of weakness. The more athletes are open to share and seek support will encourage many more athletes to do the same.
You can still become a strong athlete with a mental health issue. Mental health and psychological wellbeing are equally important. There is a large silent population of athletes today that do not have the courage to talk about their mental illnesses. The stigma of mental health needs to be broken; the conversation of mental health needs to be louder and to be heard.
YOU PERFORM BEST WHEN YOU ARE PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY HEALTHY
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