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The Star Mentality Post

  • Writer's pictureRifat Hussein

Breaking the Stigma: The Importance of Mental Health in Sports

People view athletes as being mentally, emotionally, and physically strong. We believe they are more resilient than the rest of us due to their accomplishments, especially when faced with difficulty.

However, the truth is athletes are just as vulnerable as the general public to mental health issues. Many factors attack their mental fitness such as the fear of failure, performance demands, and the constant need to be perfect as they are always scrutinized. This indicates it is essential to discuss and bring more awareness about mental health among athletes.

Why is Mental Health Important in Sports?

Mental health is a crucial aspect of an athlete’s overall well-being. They are susceptible to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, burnout, and other mental health issues. When athletes are struggling with their mental fitness it can significantly impact their performance and may result in:

  • Decreased focus

  • A lack of motivation

  • Depleted energy levels

  • A lower self-esteem

All of these components are necessary for an athlete to excel in their sport. However, these factors not only impact their ability to perform at their best but also has a negative influence on their personal relationships.

It highlights the importance of why conversations concerning an athlete’s mental health need to be normalized. This is because, they would be better able to manage their stress, continue pursuing their sporting goals, and have happier lives off the field.

Recognising Signs of Mental Health Issues

Athletes face a unique set of challenges when it comes to recognizing mental health symptoms. The high-pressure environment of competitive sports, combined with the societal stigma surrounding mental health, can make it difficult for athletes to acknowledge their struggles.

This can result in athletes brushing off symptoms as simply part of the natural sporting landscape, rather than seeking out the help they need. This lack of recognition can lead to symptoms worsening. That’s why athletes must understand the signs of mental health issues and get support when they need it.

Here are some signs that athletes may be struggling with their mental health:

  • Negative and irrational thought patterns

  • Increased irritability and frustration

  • Sleeping issues

  • Withdrawal from social situations

  • Changes in eating patterns

  • A lack of personal self-care

If you or an athlete you know exhibit any of these symptoms, it may be time to reach out for help without the fear of stigma or shame.

Why Are There Barriers to Seeking Help?

Unfortunately, it can be challenging for athletes to seek care for their mental health problems due to societal stigma. They believe they must maintain the reputation of being strong, tough, and resilient no matter the circumstances. They fear when asking for help they may be seen as weak and not up to the demands of their sport.

Here are three prominent factors that we must tackle to make it easier for athletes to seek help:

1. Lack of awareness: Many athletes may find it difficult to understand the importance of mental health due to a lack of resources and education

2. Confidentiality concerns: Athletes may be worried if their mental health issues are disclosed to others such as teammates and media outlets. This can harm their reputation and increase the fear of what the public may think of them.

3. Issues being dismissed: Athletes and coaches don’t want to acknowledge there are some problems that need to be addressed. Athletes may feel guilty after spending a lot of time and energy preparing for competitions. Whilst some coaches don’t want to lose their star players.

These barriers fuel the stigma and creates a vicious cycle of silence and fear when athletes want to open up.

Challenging The Stigma

We all have a role to play (family, coaches, friends, psychologists, and athletes themselves) in challenging the mental health stigma in sports. Breaking down the barriers that prevent athletes from seeking support is essential to promoting their well-being. Here are some ways to break down these barriers:

  • Education and awareness: Providing athletes, coaches, and parents with information and resources can help tackle the stigma and myths about mental health. This can be achieved through workshops, seminars, and training programs hosted by sporting clubs.

  • Support from organizations and teams: Governing bodies can implement policies and services that prioritize mental health. These can include privacy policies and counseling services that protect athletes and ensure their confidentiality.

  • Promoting a healthy sporting culture: Normalising mental health conversations can encourage honest and open discussions between athletes, coaches, and teammates. Creating an environment in which athletes feel more comfortable in seeking help can develop a community of peer support and inclusiveness.

By working towards developing a safer landscape across sports, we can help athletes lead a healthier life that enables them to perform at their best.

In addition, famous athletes have been challenging the stigma by being open about their mental health struggles. For example, Michael Phelps, one of the most decorated Olympians of all time, discussed the impact of his depression. Further, Naomi Osaka, the highly talented tennis star, has been transparent about her battle with depression and social anxiety.

These athletes have helped break the mold and raised awareness about the relationship between mental health and sports. They have shattered the illusion that being a successful and skilled athlete makes one immune to mental health issues.

This has increased the openness about mental wellness and has encouraged athletes of all levels to speak out without feeling ashamed. While proving seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Ways Athletes Can Take Care of Their Mental Health

As an athlete, taking control of your mental health should be a top priority. By being proactive and familiar with the ways to maintain your mental fitness, you can address any symptoms that may arise. Here are two effective approaches to help you safeguard your mental well-being:

1. Self-reflection: Evaluate and take responsibility for your emotions through introspection. By understanding, acknowledging, and processing your feelings you can manage your thoughts more effectively.

Before I explain to you how to use this strategy, self-reflection can be intense. So please take your time or take breaks if necessary. Here is how to do it:

  • Write down and think back to a time when your mental health symptoms were heightened.

  • Think deeply about the root cause. For example, did you become overwhelmed by negative thought patterns or pressurised to perform well when a crowd was watching you?

  • Detail what happened in the lead-up to the event. Think about what you were doing, how you were feeling physically, who else was around and what were the thoughts inside your head.

  • Write down how you reacted and coped with your feelings.

  • Note down if you need to improve your coping strategies and make any changes.

This will help you identify the source of your stressors and make you more aware of your thought processes. Use this strategy to reflect on past experiences and how you want to improve in the future during similar scenarios.

Track your progress by keeping a consistent journal for at least 2 months. Monitor the differences in how you felt when those situations happened again. After 2 months, review your journal to see how far you have come on your journey and if you need to make any adjustments.

2. Mindfulness: This strategy can help you become less overwhelmed by your thoughts and tackle your anxiety. It aims to keep you in the present moment and to feel in control of your mind.

Carry out these steps the next time you feel anxious:

  • Breathe in for five seconds

  • Hold your breath for five seconds

  • Breathe out for five seconds

  • Repeat this process until you find your breath

Once you find your breath, begin to identify five things you can see in your environment, four things that you can touch around you, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

It is important to note, just like building physical strength, cultivating mental resilience requires consistent effort. Think of it like improving your fitness by having a jogging routine; if you miss a few sessions, you’ll lose progress. Maintaining mental well-being requires a similar approach. By investing time and effort every day you can keep your mind in optimal shape to face life’s challenges.

Take Home Messages

For athletes to perform at their best we must break the stigma attached to mental health in sports. To help tackle these barriers we need to promote a healthy sporting culture by raising awareness and providing education. Helping athletes feel more comfortable when reaching out for help should be a top priority.

However, there is still a long way to go in increasing acceptance for athletes to be open about their mental health. But we all have a role to play and by working together we can create an inclusive community where athletes can thrive.


If you found this article helpful, please share with it your teammates, coaches, and parents.


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