About athletes’ mental health

WE see these men and women both online and on TV perform superhuman feats of strength, break world records, score a ton of points in a game, drill in a ridiculous number of goals in a season, swim their fastest ever and sprint the quickest in their athletic career.

In sports like decathlon, triathlon and duathlon, athletes dig into the deepest crevices of their desire to triumph over the competition.

In the midst of all the athleticism, we spectators, fans and enthusiasts forget that they are also human beings like us. They laugh, they cry, they get upset, angry and livid.

According to the web site athletesforhope.org, “With young adults, especially college athletes, the statistics are startling: 33 percent of all college students experience significant symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Among that group, 30 percent seek help. But of college athletes with mental health conditions, only 10 percent do.”

The web site continues: “Among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35 percent of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety. We’re inspired by athletes such as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps,  USC Volleyball player Victoria Garrick, NBA player Kevin Love and those who are telling their stories and inspiring others to seek help to support the cause.”

The psychotherapynetwork.org webpage says, “Michael Phelps, the most highly-decorated Olympian of all time, has ADHD and intermittent depression. Phelps thought about killing himself after the 2012 Olympics, where he won four gold and two silver medals. In a Sports Illustrated piece, he came clean about his challenges after multiple DUIs resulting in 18 months of probation made the news.”

Hope Solo, two-time Olympic gold medalist with the US women’s national soccer team and one of the best goalkeepers in the world, was arrested for domestic violence after allegedly assaulting a half-sister and nephew. The case was dismissed but other family troubles hit the press and Solo started seeing a therapist to address “all the pain and anger that was inside me.” Eventually, she talked with ESPN about her rocky upbringing and her introduction to therapy.

Solo’s former teammate Abby Wambach, commonly portrayed as the team’s passionate goofball, went public with the depression and addiction issues she’s been dealing with for decades in a memoir she published only after her arrest for a DUI. In an interview with the New York Post two years later, Wambach posed a hypothetical: “Could I have been a better soccer player if I just really dealt with some of the stuff that I was going through?”

Most of these athletes have chosen to come out publicly to acknowledge their vulnerability and ask for support. That, in itself, takes a lot of mental strength, humility and courage to admit you need help.

Pro wrestling legend and super action star Dwayne Johnson said on headsupguys.org, “I found that with depression one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it…I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.’”

I didn’t know the great Dwayne Johnson had a mental health issue. It speaks volumes about his character to come out and admit that he has a problem.

Terry Bradshaw, National Football League legend, “I thought maybe I could help people with awareness, help men get the strength and courage…I have run into people who have made fun of me, some of my colleagues. I’ve had people try to make light of it. Depression is not something you make light of. It’s serious.”

Australian swimming great Ian “Thorpedo” Thorpe, “It’s like a weight is pressing down on you. There are days when you just can’t get out of bed. You cannot face the world. You tell yourself simple things like: ‘Just get to the kitchen and get a glass of water.’ But not being able to do something so basic is frightening.”

These are some of the greatest athletes sports has ever seen and they’re suffering from mental challenges a lesser man would probably give in.

Here in the Philippines, do we think that an athlete that has mental health issues is crazy? Are we open to talking about it? Is it taboo?

The other day, I was part of a web conference for two of our Fil-Heritage athletes who compete in the sport of athletics. Two of our Olympic hopefuls, William “Will” Morrison and Kristina “KK” Knott who were both on the precipice of qualifying for the Olympics when the outbreak occurred.

KK said at one point that she’s tired of training, not that she doesn’t want to train anymore but because she feels she’s already peaking and yet there’s no competition to parlay her peak form into qualifying for the Olympics.

It is extremely frustrating for an athlete, whether student or professional, to already be peaking at the right time then some unforeseen circumstance like the pandemic throws a wrench in your plans.

For these athletes to perform at the highest level despite their mental health issues is something I or we probably can never mentally comprehend.

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