Mental health plays a big role in athletes

Caring for mental health is important for every individual, but it is especially important in athletes.
Caring for mental health is important for every individual, but it is especially important in athletes.
Ashlyn Swanson

One cannot stress the importance of mental health in the setting of athletics. In addition to an athlete’s physical ability and skill set, their mental health is an essential component in deciding how successful and the length they will be in their sport. Various facets make mental health critical for athletes, focusing on how it affects performance, emotional stability, team relationships, and other areas of the athlete’s life.

Its potential to improve performance is one of the main reasons mental health is important for athletes. Athletes develop mental qualities like attention, concentration, resilience, and confidence, which are crucial for performing at their best. Positive mental attitudes enable athletes to adjust to competition pressure, focus during crucial moments, and recover from setbacks more effectively.

Athletes, despite their physical prowess and dedication to their craft, are not immune to the complexities of human emotions. Stress, anxiety, and various emotional difficulties can affect them just as they do any other individual. Recognizing and addressing these mental health challenges is crucial, as it directly impacts their ability to control emotions and, in turn, contributes to enhanced overall well-being.

Juniors Lily Warnert, Sophie Swartout, and Lola Sens hit their final pose on the state floor. (Lola Sens)
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[People] don’t get that we have anxiety, that we break down. They just think we’re perfect.

— Simone Biles

Prioritizing mental health gives athletes the important tools they need to effectively control and regulate their emotions. Their improved emotional intelligence creates a sense of stability and balance in their daily lives, which benefits not just their performance on the field but also their performance off of it. Athletes’ overall well-being can be enhanced by managing their emotional well-being, which helps them deal with the demands of their competitive settings with more resilience.

There is a complex relationship between mental and physical health. An athlete’s recovery time and sensitivity to injury can be impacted by mental and emotional stress, which can also show up physiologically. Because stress has a noticeable physical impact, mental health issues must be addressed if one is to maintain physical wellness.

Regular physical activity has been shown to improve mental health. Exercise produces endorphins, which are known to lift spirits, lower stress levels, and increase mental clarity and memory. The mutual connection between mental and physical health is demonstrated by this relationship. By understanding and using this relationship, athletes can establish a positive feedback loop in which their dedication to exercise helps them both mentally and physically.

Elizabeth Jarnot hugs her teammate, Kendra Deragisch at a gymnastics meet during their senior season. (Elizabeth Jarnot)
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When I first heard the term ‘mental health,’ the first thing that came to mind was mental toughness. Masking pain. Hiding it. Keeping it inside. That had been embedded in me since I was a kid. Never show weakness. Suck it up. Play through it. Live through it. Now, I realize that mental health means the total opposite.

— Brandon Marshall

Essentially, athletes who take care of their emotional health lead more balanced lives, both on and off the field. Athletes can make decisions that improve their general health and performance by realizing the connection between their physical and mental well-being. This approach helps the individual athlete as well as creates a culture that acknowledges the significance of mental health in attaining long-term success in sports and other activities.

Mental toughness is necessary for long-term athletic performance. Athletes will always have difficulties, including setbacks in their performance, intense rivalry, and injury. Strong mental health makes one more capable of overcoming these obstacles, which prolongs and enhances one’s professional life. Individual mental health has a big impact on team dynamics in team sports. Strong mental health athletes collaborate with teammates, communicate well, and create a supportive environment that all favorably impacts the team environment. In the end, this team-member interaction improves the performance of the entire group.

Athletes develop mental abilities that are applicable outside of the field of competition, such as goal planning, time management, and determination. The transferability of these talents is demonstrated by the fact that athletes who maintain strong mental health are more likely to succeed in their personal and professional endeavors as well as their sports goals. To eliminate the stigma associated with mental health concerns, mental health must be emphasized in the sports industry. Openly discussing and treating their mental health issues, as athletes do, can encourage others to get treatment, creating a more accepting and understanding culture within the athletic community.

 

Senior Abby Haus played volleyball throughout high school and plans to play at the collegiate level next year. (Used with permission from Abby Haus)

 

 

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For the longest time, I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness because that’s kind of what society teaches us. That’s especially true from an athlete’s perspective. If we ask for help, then we’re not this big macho athlete that people can look up to. Well, you know what? If someone wants to call me weak for asking for help, that’s their problem. Because I’m saving my own life.

— Michael Phelps

Studies have shown that 35% of athletes suffer from a mental health crisis including depression, anxiety, or emotional burnout. Females are more likely to struggle with mental health issues like eating disorders or poor body image. However, both male and female athletes are equally susceptible to mental health struggles. Mental health is strongly impacted by injuries. In addition to experiencing emotional discomfort and identity loss frequently, athletes may have symptoms of anxiety and depression while they heal. Research indicates that repetitive head trauma, like those sustained in football and boxing, might cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition linked to aggressive behavior, depression, mood swings, and other mental health issues in later life.

Because of the high demands and expectations placed on them by their career, athletes may be more vulnerable to mental health issues. The high expectations placed on them by teammates, coaches, and fans, together with the ongoing assessment of their performance, can lead to a great deal of stress and worry. Sports injuries are common and can have psychological effects in addition to physical ones. These include worries about the possibility of re-injury and the length of one’s career. The rigorous training regimens and frequent travel can cause social isolation, and the deeply rooted sense of self associated with their sport may make it difficult for them to leave a professional career. If athletes feel that mental health is stigmatized in the sports community, they may be discouraged from openly seeking assistance.

Athletes can experience mental health difficulties just like anybody else, and stigmatizing these conditions can be harmful to their general well-being. Eliminating the stigma motivates athletes to put their mental health first, get help when they need it, and take proactive steps to improve their mental wellness. Therefore, inside and outside of the sports world, a better and more balanced lifestyle is promoted. Seeking treatment for mental health issues can frequently be blocked by stigma. Athletes who disclose mental health issues may be afraid of being judged, subject to discrimination, or face unfavorable consequences. By destroying the stigma, athletes are more inclined to ask for assistance without worrying about the repercussions, which makes early intervention and successful treatment possible.

Senior Holly Lenarz completed her last season by swimming four events at the state meet. (Used with permission from Holly Lenarz)

For many people, especially young people, athletes serve as role models. Eliminating the stigma associated with mental health in athletes sets a good example for others and promotes an open, compassionate, and proactive mental health care culture. Beyond the realm of athletics, attitudes, and behaviors may be impacted by this cultural shift. The public’s awareness of mental health is improved when the stigma is eliminated. By eliminating myths and preconceptions, it promotes an informed and caring society. By sharing their personal stories, athletes can encourage others to get treatment without feeling ashamed or afraid of it. This helps de-stigmatize mental health concerns for the broader audience.

The significance of mental health for athletes extends beyond the boundaries of the playing field. It is essential to their success as a whole, team relationships, emotional health, and performance. Athletes who prioritize and acknowledge their mental health not only improve their physical performance but also foster a supportive and upbeat sports culture. As our understanding of the aspects of athlete well-being grows, treating mental health becomes essential to developing sports greatness and the people who inspire those accomplishments.

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Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another. It’s part of life. You never know what that person is going through.

— Kevin Love

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About the Contributors
Ashlyn Swanson, Journalist
Grade: Senior Activities: Swimming and Softball My car's name: Dora the Ford Explorer Favorite superhero: Spiderman Favorite coffee shops: Starbucks and Copper Pony    
Elizabeth Jarnot, Journalist
Grade: Senior Favorite Holiday: Christmas Car Name: Scarlett Favorite Drink Place: Starbucks and Dunkin Favorite Food: Cream cheese