Athletes are supposed to be tough, right? Well, battling mental health issues is even tougher. Physical activity is often recommended as a way for people who struggle with mental illness to manage their symptoms. Exercise releases endorphins, which leads to positive feelings and serves as a form of stress relief. However, even though they generally exercise more than the average person, athletes are not always immune to mental illness.
The NCAA is one of many organizations that is fighting to end the stigma around mental health in student-athletes. “The Sports Science Institute (SSI) believes mental health is a part of, not apart from, athlete health,” stated the NCAA on their website. “We strive to improve access to quality mental healthcare with the goal of creating a culture where care-seeking for mental health issues is as normative as care-seeking for physical injuries.”
Student-athletes have many responsibilities and expectations in both their athletic and personal lives. As athletes, they are often expected to be mentally and physically tough enough to handle the intense competitive training. There is also the expectation that they can positively (and at times perfectly) represent themselves, their team and their programs professionally. Often, this pressure can be too much. Adding to the complication, coaches and peers are unaware of an athlete’s mental struggles, which can be made worse if the athlete isn’t comfortable speaking up about them.
On the flip side, the encouraging news is that conversations surrounding mental health are becoming more normalized as the athletes take it upon themselves to speak up.
Many well-known and successful athletes, such as Michael Phelps, Abby Wambach, Paul Pierce, Brigetta Barrett, and Brandon Marshall have all been open about battling depression and anxiety.
High profile athletes sharing their stories, in addition to others who have recently spoken out about eating disorders, PTSD and trauma, are the start of the much-needed destigmatization of these often life-threatening conditions.
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