Mental health among athletes
At the end of the day, athletes are human beings and are just as susceptible to experiencing mental ill health as everyone else. The difference between an athlete and the mid-management employee who has a small family, a mortgage, various bills to pay, and other everyday life stressors, is the athlete might have these same issues in addition to sport-specific stressors. Those of us in the general population don’t really have to worry about the impact of long-term injuries, the constant attention from the public and media, or pressure of constantly having to be at the top of our game.
It’s no wonder then that when compared to the general population, athletes are more likely to be psychologically distressed. Furthermore, more than half of Australian athletes have experienced some form of mental health problem like depression, eating disorders, or social anxiety. We see more and more stories these days of just how much mental ill health is impacting top-performing athletes, think most recently of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles.
Now it’s unlikely that mental ill health will ever disappear, particularly within the athletic environment, but clearly, athletes need help when it comes to dealing with their mental health. Further still, athletes may not even recognise they are suffering from mental ill health. Again, they’re still human and most of us have trouble admitting we need help or why we need it. Although many clubs and organisations employ mental health professionals, some athletes may not take up the offer of these individuals. It might be that an athlete is much more comfortable bringing this up with their coach.
The question is then, what role does the coach play in the mental health of an athlete?