Importance of Mental Health for Athletes
To remain at the peak of their physical health and performance, athletes often end up overlooking their mental health, making them vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Conversations on a sports field, in locker rooms and gyms, usually revolve around the players and athletes being tough, gritty, determined to win.
Being tough often translates into showing no signs of weakness, never admitting to the behind-the-scenes struggles of being a part of an aggressive world, and putting on a façade of being okay at all times. Combine this with severe performance pressure, and it can have catastrophic consequences.
An alarming number of athletes and college/professional athletic aspirants experience mental health disorders in some form or another. While depression is the most common mental health disorder in professional players, many of them often suffer from several other disorders such as stress, anxiety, a myriad of eating disorders, and symptoms of burnout.
These disorders make it difficult for them to engage in regular practice sessions, which in turn leads them to neglect their physical health, and the vicious cycle continues. In such a scenario, the emphasis on mental health for athletes is as crucial as maintaining a top physical form.
For any team to be able to perform at its peak, mental health awareness is important. However, in the absence of a framework that supports and promotes mental health for athletes, the responsibility of helping young professional athletes navigate the fiercely competitive space falls on the shoulders of parents, coaches, and even fellow players.
The biggest challenge lies in recognizing the player who might be dealing with mental health disorders. Athletes and professional players are often subjected to the pressure of donning the hat of a role model for their fans and followers, even their peers. This results in a reluctance to open up to someone about the issues that plague them and seek assistance or professional help.
Another challenge lies in noticing these issues in themselves. Since mental disorders involve brain chemistry and do not manifest physically in the early stages, it can be challenging to notice and address them. Fellow teammates, coaches, friends, and family can watch for early warning signs such as withdrawing in a shell, extreme mood swings, and other subtle deviations from their normal behavior.
Being there for someone suffering from a mental health condition is the first step towards helping them. Even listening without any judgment can be of great help. A combination of support groups, counseling therapy sessions, and, if required, medication can help to a great extent.
However, empowering athletes to manage their stress levels with simple yet effective stress management techniques and helping them develop positive coping mechanisms for the future are the most important steps towards recovery. Putting a constant effort into prioritizing their mental health above all else can make the most significant difference in the long run.
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