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Erin Mescher

Professor Hellmers


19 October 2019

Mental Health in Athletes

Have you ever participated in a sport? Have you ever found yourself struggling and you

do not know what to do? Have you ever came home from a practice or game very upset? If you

have, know that you are not alone. According to Katja Siefken, mental disorders are affecting

people all over the country. Mental health issues are becoming more and more common.

Actually addressing mental health issues has been a concern. Identifying and characterizing

characteristics is very important to help overcome mental health issues. Mental health in

athletes especially have been more and more common. Mental health is becoming a more

serious problem in youth, especially depression. Although most people think that individuals

should participate in sports, it has been proven that many athletes suffer from mental illnesses.

In the Ted Talk “Athletes and Mental Health: The Hidden Opponent” by Victoria Garrick,

she explains how physically and mentally challenging participating in a sport is. Victoria

participated in college volleyball. She came into this college knowing she was going to sit the

bench and not get playing time, but she showed who she was and got out on the court. Being a

student athlete was a constant struggle for her. She constantly had practice and had to perform

to her greatest ability and she did not have time to focus on school. If she did not perform well

then they would take her out and just replace her with someone on the bench. She was stuck on

the mindset that she could not make a mistake or her coach would pull her out. If she had a big

test the next day, she could not be thinking about studying or what it is over. All of her focus had

to be on whatever drill they were doing. Being a division one athlete, is very time consuming, as

her world revolves around playing volleyball.

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There were many times where she would have to miss class for a game. She stated that

it was very hard to get and make up what they did in class. Missing a class in college can be

very challenging because you might not have that class the next day. Practices would last about

2 and a half hours a day, but this did not include coming in early to stretch, warmed up, and get

her stuff on. In the long run practice took up about 3 hours of her day every single day. She

would constantly ask herself if this is how her life should be. Although most people think that

individuals should participate in sports, it has been proven that many athletes suffer from mental


Over the years, mental health issues in athletes have been increasing. No matter your

age or the sport you are in, it will not affect you developing a mental issue. According to John

Affleck and Sports Journalism and Society, the view on today’s athletes increases the pressure

on them. When being a fan, it is hard to understand how much pressure there is on the athletes

to perform well. Not only do the athletes have to perform well for their team, now they have to

perform well for all their fans, the broadcasting networks, and social media. If they end up not

performing well, they have to deal with all the fans and broadcasters talking bad about them all

over social media and television. Then they have to gain their fans back and have to perform to

the best of their ability for their next game. This makes the athlete feel anxious and if they end

up playing bad again, this can lead to depression. Recently athletes have been opening up

about their mental health issues. “Michael Phelps – a swimmer with more medals than anyone

in Olympic history – has spoken candidly for years about his struggles with depression.

Longtime NFL receiver Brandon Marshall has gone public with his mental health issues, as has

2012 Olympic silver medalist in high jump Brigetta Barrett. Fox Sports has written about the

frequency of eating disorders among female college athletes” (Affleck 2).

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Many athletes over the years get injured at least once in their career, some bigger

injuries than others. In the article “Why Are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling With

Depression?” by Linda FLanagan, it describes Isabella’s life and what she had to overcome.

Isabella got injured and ended up tearing her ACL, and she was unable to come back and play

lacrosse that season. She stated that it was horrible having to sit back and fall behind in her

sport and watch everyone else up their game, while she had to start from square one with

almost everything.

While she could not play, she started to eat more and more and later developed an

eating disorder. She stated that since she wasn’t playing lacrosse she was not sure what to do

with her life. Isabella has always played lacrosse and when she was not able to play she did not

know exactly what to do. She had never had this much free time in her life. She had gotten so

used to always being on the go when she was given all this free time, she felt like she should be

playing lacrosse or doing something for lacrosse. Many athletes think they can eat how they ate

while they were participating in their sport. However, when they are not in their sport, they are

not as active, which means they are not burning as many calories.

Having to deal with an injury can be very rough for an athlete. Another example of an

athlete going through a very serious injury, was Aubreigh Brown. She played on Jv her

Freshman and Sophomore year. Her Junior year she made varsity. In a pre season scrimmage,

she went down and tore her acl. The doctors told her that she was gonna be able to finish the

season and get surgery after the season ended. Although during the season, her coach did not

play her and she maybe played 3 sets throughout her entire Junior year. She was very upset

with this because she was suffering through all this pain every single day to be able to see very

little playing time. She would constantly go home after practice and games very upset. This was
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very hard on her because she was in constant pain and frustration. This led her to not play

volleyball her Senior year.

Getting injured in a sport has many negative effects on an athlete including: weight gain,

anxiety, and inability to do things they used to do. Many athletes when they get injured tend to

be on crutches, in a splint, or something that makes them unable to be physically active and do

normal things around the house or in school. Many injuries require you to be a bum and lay

down on the couch all day, not allowing you to do much of anything besides sit down and watch

television all day. This leads to weight gain because they are not able to get up, exercise and be

as active as they used to. However, once the athlete is able to come back they are very

cautious because they do not want to re-injure themselves. This creates anxiety for the athlete,

making them always worried about every movement and cut they make.

Another example athletes suffer from mental health come from the lack of people to go

to when they are struggling. According to Kevin Bryant and Cari Wood, many of the athletes

who are having mental health issues don’t open up to get help. About a year ago, Redmond

High School witnessed this first hand. Once their third athlete committed suicide, they were

committed to making sure this did not happen again. A video was made about the student and

blew up. The Redmond School District coaching staff has been paying more and more attention

to athletes' appearance, view on life and anything happening in their daily life.

Recently, there was an incident where a coach knew the player was not being their self.

The coach reached out to the player after figuring out there was something going on at home.

Shortly after there was another incident with an athlete. This time there was suicidal intentions

posted on social media and the coach asked to meet with the athlete. After these two incidents,

the district decided it would be a good idea to hire two mental health counselors. Since the

counselors do not have the time to meet with every athlete, they created a google form for the
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athletes to fill out once a week. It consisted of four questions regarding sleep, injuries, what they

are eating, and how they are feeling. If there are any concerning responses then the counselors

would meet with that athleteZ.

Now Redmond School District holds monthly meetings to help student-athlete

development. The four key areas are mental skills, mental health, physical improvement, and

academics. The most important thing to understand when working with athletes is to make sure

you allow them to be themselves and help them through challenges. Throughout the district,

they want to have strong independent men and women who will be ready to face challenges

anytime in their life.

The last reason athletes struggle with mental issues is due to the fact that athletes are

over trained and have constant pressure on them to perform well. In the article “Mental Health

and Sports” by Tomi Wahlstorm, the author explains all mental illnesses athletes have and the

consequences that come with mental illnesses. Performing at the top levels is very stressful and

demanding. This can lead to the athlete having anxiety about not being good enough.

Overtraining can lead to mental exhaustion and sleeping disorders. When the athlete is not

performing to the standard they need to be at it can then lead to depression.

Mental illnesses do not just go away in the snap of a finger. If they get out of hand, they

can end up destroying lives and careers. Many people who have mental illnesses, can’t help

themselves and don’t even realize they are having these issues. Many people deny their

symptoms and turn to alcohol and drugs or self-destructive behaviors. This leads to having

social issues and people tend to isolate themselves which leads to complications.
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In the article “Nerves vs Anxiety & Depression in Sport” by Jordan Anderson, the author

describes the distribution of stress in athletes. The yellow bar represents the perfect amount of

stress for an athlete in order to perform well. When athletes do not have enough stress, we tend

to slack off and be less motivated, as represented in the orange and red bar. When athletes

have too much stress on them, they tend to be physically and mentallly exhausted. This is when

athletes have trouble dealing with their stress and they do not know what to do.

The pressure on student athletes is insane. According to Chris Carr and Jamie

Davidson, in an athletic environment the demands are huge. Athletes having daily practices

where the level of competitiveness is high, having to earn their playing time. Along with practice,

they have a full day of academics, weights and conditioning, and working with their trainer to

keep their bodies healthy. This allows the athlete to have minimal social interactions, which

leads to having weak relationships with their peers. Student athletes not only have to succeed

in school, but also succeed in their sport. Victoria Garrick stated how her life was as a student

athlete and gave examples of how the pressure got to her. An athlete preaches that the best do

not rest and no pain no gain. This is not the culture that athletes need. Most athletes do not

understand that they are pushing themselves too hard. They tell themselves they can not be

weak because there are other people who can take their spot. When athletes feel weak, it tends

to bring their mood down and they fall down and think negative thoughts. When athletes have

mental issues, they are not able to sit out because no one can see it. For an athlete to confess

their mental health issues is very hard because they do not want to let the team down or have

their teammates and coaches to look at them differently.

Many athletes once they walk away from their sport realize how different their life would

be. Aubreigh Brown stated that her life has changed a lot from not participating in volleyball.

She is currently a Senior in High School and has a well paying job at Aqua Tots. During
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volleyball season, she never had time to work, so she was never making money. This meant

that she was not able to spend much money, so she could not go out and have fun with her


She also never had the time to hang out with her friends and family. She stated that she

was a very family oriented girl and they would try to have family dinners every night. Not seeing

and talking to her parents, made her feel unattached to them during the season. She would

maybe see her parents for an hour a day due to having practice and then having to come home

and do homework. Every weekend her friends would make plans to go do something fun. She

would either have practice or a game during that time. During the season, she could never have

sleepovers because she would either have an early practice or game. This lead to her feeling

left out of her friend group, and even losing some of her friends.

Aubreigh stated that she was so glad she decided to not play volleyball this year. She

said \t was the best decision of her life. However, she did mention some regrets she had. She

stated that she felt like a part of her life was missing. Every since she was five, she has been

participating in a sport. Not playing her senior year, made her upset because senior year is

when you get to celebrate and you get recognized. When senior night rolled around this year,

she felt left out because all of her old teammates were out there playing and getting recognized,

and she had to watch from the stands.

In the article “Evaluation of Mental Well-Being and General Health Points of Athletes” by

Nesihan LÖK, the author discussed how sports positively affects individuals who already have

mental issues. Studies have shown that daily exercise improves mental health. It has been

proven that exercise allows people to be happier and reduces depression. Exercising allows you

to get away from all your problems and blow off steam. If the individual is struggling with mental

health issues, then exercise can help reduce their problems.

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“A sport contributes to the physical, emotional and social development of people and has

positive effects on healthy life. At the same time, the importance of athletes has been revealed

with the evaluation of leisure time, self-confidence, socialization and solidarity, as well as

exploring the role of physical and mental health in the development” (2). Sports allows

individuals to go out and be active, make friends, and have fun while doing it. Most kids do not

like to go to the gym to workout. Instead, they sit inside all day and play video games or watch


In this situation, the pros do not outweigh the cons. Although it is good for people to

participate in sports, there are many side effects that many people do not see. Participating in

sports daily can help with mental health, but for athletes playing or wanting to play in college

and who are constantly involved in their sport, sports can lead to athletes developing depression

and anxiety. Mental health in athletes needs to be looked over into great detail. There needs to

be more people in the athlete’s lives that they can go to when they are not feeling themselves.

Coaches need to be on the lookout and form close bonds with each individual player.

This will allow the athletes to feel more comfortable with them and be able to talk to their

coaching staff when a problem comes up. Athletics can help students prepare for obstacles later

in their life. Passion for their hobbies, connections with their peers and adults, goal setting and

meeting their goals, and how to overcome obstacles and never give up. Coaches need to

understand when they are pushing their athletes too much, and when to step back because an

athlete will most likely not go up to their coach and tell them their thoughts and emotions. Some

athletes react differently to different situations. Some athletes perform better when their coach

gets in their face, but some athletes crumble and get in their head and do not perform as well as

they normally do.

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This means that coaches need to be welcoming and influence their athletes to talk to

them. Athletes strive for positive feedback, rewards, and attention from their coaches. In coach-

athlete relationships it is it is important that the coach is always encouraging and there for their

athletes, so when they are struggling the athletes feel comfortable going up to their coach.

When coaches see their athlete struggling they should ask them what is going on and what they

can do to help. It could be as easy as letting the athlete skip practice so they can study for their

big test the next day. Another example is the coaches could limit the amount of hours the

athlete is participating in. The coaches could limit it to only two hour practices and morning

weights every other morning. This would put less stress on the athlete and allow them to focus

on school and athletics.

Overall, participating in a sport can be very stressful for an athlete and cause them to

have anxiety or depression. Many athletes feel like they let the whole world down when they

have a bad practice or game, but in reality no one is perfect and they are just being too hard on

themselves. Athletes struggle with when to tell people and who to tell because they have always

been told, no pain no gain and it is a grind. Having this mindset can lead to athletes just blowing

things off and telling themselves that everything is ok when it really is not. This can make things

worse for them in the long run.

Works cited

Affleck, John, and Sports Journalism and Society. “Why It Matters That More Athletes Are

Talking about Their Mental Health.” The Conversation, 2 July 2019,

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Anderson, Jordan. “Nerves vs Anxiety & Depression in Sport.” SharkBites- SkillShark Blog, 3

Jan. 2019,

Brown, Aubreigh, Personal interview. 16 October 2019.

Bryant, Kevin, and Cari Wood. “Challenges of Mental-Health Issues in High School

Athletics.” NFHS, 5 Feb. 2019,


Carr, Chris, and Jamie Davidson. “Mind, Body and Sport: The Psychologist Perspective.” - The Official Site of the NCAA, 18 July 2017,


Flanagan, Linda. “Why Are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling With Depression?” The

Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 17 Apr. 2019,


Garrick, Victoria, director. Athletes and Mental Health: The Hidden Opponent. TEDxUSC, 2

June 2017,

LÖK, Neslihan. “Evaluation of Mental Well-Being and General Health Points of Athletes.”

Balikesir University Journal of Social Sciences Institute, vol. 20, no. 38, Dec. 2017, pp.

1–10. EBSCOhost,
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SIEFKEN, KATJA, et al. “How Does Sport Affect Mental Health? An Investigation into the

Relationship of Leisure-Time Physical Activity with Depression and Anxiety.” Human

Movement, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 62–74. EBSCOhost,