Athletes are amazing. At least I have always thought so. People who find they have a natural inclination toward using their body in a sport where they can find excellence via competition astounds me. Not only does this take strength of body, but also good mental health. In order to focus, be present, and find balance between their athleticism with the other areas of their lives takes a strong mind. Athletes and mental health go hand-in-hand.
However, many athletes are so focused on their sport and caring for their physical bodies, their mental health is not cared for as well as it could be. It is not only sometimes easy for the athletes to ignore anxiety and depression they may feel, but also for others to not be able to recognize that just because someone may be strong physically doesn’t necessarily mean they are feeling this way inside themselves.
Remember when Michael Phelps came out to the news media about how he has suffered with depression even as he competed at the highest levels of swimming? His story has helped many others start to frame athletes as people who also need mental health care. So often the two go hand-in-hand — for all of us.
It’s a good reminder that even athletes who are in amazing physical health may be people who are also suffering from any number of mental health issues. Also, there may be specific ways that they suffer related to competition, i.e. the pressure to compete, the pressure to win, unrelenting schedules, high standards for ways to maintain their bodies, disappointment after a season or match is over, and many more.
If your child is an athlete or if someone else in your life is, make sure to not assume that she is doing well mentally just because she is excelling in her sport. Check in and see what may or may not be going on. Given how often we assume our athletes are strong both physically and mentally, connecting with them in this way will be an important step in helping them reflect on how they are feeling and what they are experiencing even as they compete.