Athletes have mental health too
Athletes, whether professional or student, are often viewed as epitomes of strength, resilience and perseverance. However, this perception can be misleading as mental health issues can significantly affect their performance both on and off the field. The pressure to succeed, constant scrutiny and physical demands of the sport can take a toll on athletes’ well-being. Mental health is just as important as physical health and neglecting it can have severe consequences. As we celebrate athletes’ achievements on the field or the court, it’s crucial to recognize that behind the glitz and glamour lies a hidden reality of mental health struggles.
When it comes to mental health struggles in professional athletes, the most common types of illness are stress, anxiety and depression, and these three things can all cause one another. But one of the main causes for these illness’s in athletes is injuries, but not an injury that leaves you out a couple of days or a week, injuries that take away athletes abilities to play for an extended period of time or even end their careers. In the article “The Mental Health of Elite Athletes: A Narrative Systematic Review” by authors Simon Rice, Rosemary Purcell and Stefanie De Silva, the text states “Elite athletes face a unique array of ‘workplace’ stressors… the potential for injuries to end careers prematurely.” The fear of getting injured can take a significant toll on a players mental health, and combine that with the pressure at playing at a high level, can cause an extremely stressful environment that can lead to mental health issues. Moreover, if an athlete suffers a career ending injury it can create many psychological issues. They’re losing their livelihood, they’re losing their ability to do what they are passionate about, and if you want to look at it at the basic level, they’re losing their job for which they have worked so hard to get to.
Although injuries are a common cause for mental health issues among athletes, there is another route that flies under the radar, retirement. The same article states, “There may be subgroups of athletes at elevated risk of mental ill-health, including those in the retirement phase of their careers.” Retiring from professional sports can be a challenging transition for athletes, as they often lose the structure, routine and identity that their sport provided. These losses can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and a lack of purpose, which may contribute to the development of mental health issues. Also, retired athletes can face financial difficulties which can also lead to stress and anxiety.
Mental health and substances can go hand and hand. The easiest substance to obtain for both professional and student athletes is alcohol. Both types of athletes can turn to alcohol for the same reasons, like to deal with pressure. Professional athletes have the pressure to play at the highest level while student athletes have the pressure to play good enough to make it to the next level. If an athlete develops alcoholism it can result in many consequences like performance issues which can result in job loss. The article “Athletes and Alcoholism”, by author Kelly Brown, lists some physical issues, “Decreased strength output, muscle cramps and decreased muscle protein synthesis.” Decreased strength limits the athletes ability to perform at their required level, muscle cramps causes pain and discomfort which limits the athletes ability to move freely and decreased muscle protein causes an athlete to lose their physical abilities.
Along with professional athletes, students athletes can also deal with alcoholism and mental health issues. Both types of athletes can face the same type of pressure but it can come from different directions. For example the pros can face pressure from their coaches, while students can face pressure from the parents, along with their coaches. The same article states, “Student athletes also face a lot of pressure regarding their athletic and academic performance. Some turn to alcohol to deal with stress.” Student athletes often face significant pressure to perform at a high level in both their sport and academics. The pressure to succeed in both fields and cause stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, some student athletes turn to alcohol as a way to cope with these stresses. Drinking alcohol can provide temporary relief from stress and anxiety, but it can also lead to impaired academic and athletic performance, not to mention legal issues if they are under age too. Also, the pressure to live a “college life” can also lead to peer pressure for college athletes. A main theme for being in college is going out to parties and drinking. This can lead to peer pressure for athletes to fit in with their peers. The desire to fit in causes stress and it can lead to athletes to engage in risky behavior like binge drinking and drug use.
To make matters even worse, athletes are hesitant to speak up about their mental health. There are many stigmas surrounding athletes and their mental health, these stigmas range from the difficulty of spotting these issues to the fear of failure and disappointing others. The article “Mental Health in Athletes: Moving beyond the Stigma” by author Allaya Cooks-Campbell, states “Athletes could feel guilty for having poor mental health. They could blame themselves and fear disappointing others by dealing with mental health issues.” Many athletes are conditioned to prioritize their physical toughness and may view seeking help for mental issues as a sign of weakness. Also, since athletes are expected to play at such a high level, it can lead to guilt and shame if they are struggling because they are held to such high standards. Athletes may also carry the fear of disappointing others by admitting that they are struggling, which can create a significant barrier to seeking help. These feelings of guilt, fear and shame can also be very difficult to navigate, which can also deter athletes from seeking support.
In conclusion, it’s essential to acknowledge that the pressure to succeed in sports can cause a significant impact on the mental health of both professional and student athletes. While these athletes are often celebrated for their physical powers and ability to perform under pressure, the reality is that their mental health struggles are often overlooked. The pressure to succeed, coupled with the stigma surrounding mental health in sports, can create significant barriers to seeking help and support. From anxiety to depression, these issues can have long-lasting effects on an athletes well-being, both on and off the field.
Mental Health in Athletes: Moving beyond the Stigma. (2022, February 4). Retrieved April 2, 2023,
Brown, K. (2022, December 11). Athletes and alcoholism. Alcohol Rehab Help. Retrieved April 2, 2023
Rice, S. M., Purcell, R., De Silva, S., Mawren, D., McGorry, P. D., & Parker, A. G. (2016, February 20). The Mental Health of Elite Athletes: A Narrative Systematic Review – Sports Medicine. SpringerLink. Retrieved April 2, 2023