Looking after your mental health as an athlete

As an athlete, your profession involves pushing both your mind and your body to the limit. Therefore you will have highly specific needs when seeking medical care.

Athletes will see doctors who specialise in the effects of gruelling physical regimens. However, imagine if an athlete is experiencing symptoms of depression. They tell their doctor they feel tired, demotivated, and unable to think clearly. Is the doctor going to suspect a problem with their mental health?

A sports doctor is far more likely to say that they’re burning themselves out. They may advise the athlete to ease up on the training, rather than suspect any mental health issues at play. This problem is outlined in an article for the British Journal of Sports Medicine, ‘The Stigmatisation and Denial of Mental Illness in Athletes.’

Athletes live in a world where tenacity and strength are a currency. Upholding this standard can be a challenge both physically and mentally. Recently, multiple famous athletes have publicly shared their struggle with mental illness.

Gender also plays a huge part in many issues affecting the sporting community. Many men are suffering in silence with mental health issues. We live in a society where men still struggle to be open about their emotional wellbeing. They continue to be bound by connotations of strength and dominance. These are undoubtedly magnified in the sporting community.

How injuries can affect athletes mentally

A successful athlete has to test the limits of their body. If their body struggles under the pressure, this can be internalised as a sign of weakness or failure. This can be exacerbated further by the mental burden of competition. Athletes who suffer injuries often feel as though they have let people down, whether it’s their teammates, their families or their supporters.

Earlier this year Dame Kelly Holmes spoke candidly about her battle with mental health. A series of physical injuries led to severe depression, to the extent that she started self-harming. The interview highlights an issue with injured athletes. Relying so much on peak performance, they can often feel they are being ‘betrayed’ by their own body. The pressure to remain strong meant Holmes stayed silent about the damage she was doing to her body:

“It was all about positive attitudes, reaching the highest levels, staying focused, not looking like you were a weak athlete, not bringing other people around you down.”

This mindset can endure long after an athlete has retired from their career. Athletes are unique in that they tend to retire at a much younger age than other professions. This means that in their later years, athletes can feel depressed due to a lack of immediate purpose.

How can athletes look after their mental health?

Last year the government announced measures to tackle a ‘reaching crisis point’ for mental health in sport. By 2024 all sporting organisations must have a clear mental health strategy.

Trainers and coaches alike will undergo training for them to recognise early signs of mental health issues. This duty of care alleviates the pressure for athletes to speak out about mental health. Athletes are also being advised to visit mental health units. Helping athletes understand the universality of anxiety and depression will help reduce stigma.

A common issue amongst people with mental health issues is that they feel it is a burden to be carried alone. This stops people from seeking professional help. Although this may not be a ‘cure’, it can help develop healthy coping mechanisms.

 

Anyone who feels as though they are struggling with their mental health should talk to their GP. They can offer confidential advice, and recommend treatments whether that be medication or therapy.

Many people wish to deal with their mental health issues in private. This is where Qured can be a great help. Download the Qured app, and a private doctor can be sent to your home, office or even a hotel room. This means you can get confidential care in a comfortable environment.

Our doctors are on-call seven days a week and can be with you in as little as two hours. Contact us today to find out more.

 

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