Athletes and Mental Health: Why It’s Important to Take it Seriously 

Team Mental Health Matters blog graphic
Dark Blue organic circle graphic

As we cheer for our favorite athletes on the field or court, it is easy to forget that even the most successful athletes struggle with mental health issues. High-performance athletes face a unique set of stressors, such as the pressure of competition, injuries, and maintaining a specific image for fans. However, these issues have long been brushed under the rug with the idea that vulnerability can be perceived as a weakness among athletes. It’s time to acknowledge that mental health is integral to our overall well-being, including those of our sporting heroes.

The burden of perceived strength

Society has often reiterated that athletes must be “tough” to survive. This mentality that athletes must bottle up emotions and “power through” any personal issues to maintain their performance demeanor has created an environment where mental health is largely ignored. The fear of not being taken seriously by coaches, fellow athletes, and even fans can lead many athletes to remain silent about their struggles with their mental health. However, this silence is often detrimental.

The effects of neglected mental health on performance

There’s no denying that mental health affects overall performance. The more pressure one puts on an athlete to perform, the higher the likelihood of anxiety, stress, and depression. These can lead to difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, and a general loss of motivation, negatively affecting athletic performance. Athletes who don’t prioritize self-care may attempt to mask their emotional pain through substance abuse or other harmful coping mechanisms that can affect their performance off the field and, ultimately, their longevity in the sport.

Getting help

Mental health is as crucial to an athlete’s performance, career, and life as physical health. It’s time for athletes to feel supported enough to prioritize their mental and emotional well-being through mindfulness practices, therapy, or healthy lifestyle choices. As a society, we must support athletes in breaking mental health stigma. We must create a safe space for them to speak up without fear of judgment. We need to learn that it is okay not to be okay. Together we can help provide a platform where athletes can thrive in their respective sports and life.

When athletes are struggling with their mental health, it is essential to remember that they are not alone. Seeking help doesn’t make them any less of an athlete. The burden of being “resilient” and “stoic” shouldn’t be something athletes must endure in silence. Reaching out to a therapist, a life coach, or a mental health professional, for example, can equip them with tools and techniques to manage stress and maintain their mental and emotional health.

We here at West Michigan Psychological Services can help you do just that.