Breaking Down the Mental Health Issue in Sports

Breaking Down the Mental Health Issue in Sports

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Breaking Down the Mental Health Issue in Sports

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San Francisco 49ers/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network

Mental health issues are often seen as a burden, but it is simply a diagnosis of a disease that many people around the world suffer from. Mental health issues do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or gender, although some groups of people may experience a higher level of need when it comes to these psychological issues.

In sport, mental health awareness becomes so important yet falls by the wayside often. Athletes can be subject to pressures of performance demands imposed by coaches, fans, family members, peers, and even themselves and these pressures along with natural stresses can cause mental health issues to develop. Sports can be described as a battleground that builds character, establishes order, and helps build a foundation for success yet the acceptance of mental health is still far from where it should be. 

We have seen high profile athletes speak up about different struggles they have had including DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Love, Delonte West, Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, Imani McGee-Stafford, Ricky Williams, and recently Richard Sherman. Sports can be the main outlet used to cope with different emotional issues and is an important component of identity and self-esteem for athletes.

When really looking into how mental health factors into athletes and sports as a whole, we must also remember that these athletes are human beings first. They have emotions, hardships, and struggles just like the rest of us and their own experiences help shape them into the people they are today. These experiences shape how each one of us sees the world and how we perceive everything around us. 

While mental health issues do not discriminate, the people that suffer from these issues do face discrimination. For so long, we have seen athletes be told to not be “mentally weak” when it comes to competitive advantage and historically, acknowledging any mental health issues has been seen as a weakness. Especially within sports, where many racial minority athletes make up the sports leagues, the importance of mental health awareness comes into play.

Many minority athletes that suffer from mental illness are afraid to come forward due to the perceptions of society and the fear that they may become at more of a disadvantage than they already are due to the color of their skin. 

With the psychology world being predominantly white, this can lead to many minorities to project anticipated negative experiences upon themselves and possibly dismiss help all together. Many minority athletes experience constant microaggressions in their daily lives which can factor into the decision to not seek help due to the chance of being labeled or possibility having to endure any potential racism. 

This comes back to the systematic endurance of racism within the United States and many minority athletes are hesitant to speak up and seek the treatment they need due to this fear.  

The stigma that goes along with mental health remains globally prevalent due to much negative portrayal of those diagnosed or those who seek help. Performance issues within sport come about from those who suffer but the stigma perceived may cause individuals to not speak up.

The sports media does play a vital role in this as they can paint an athlete out to be “mentally strong” or they can tear them down for being “mentally weak”. This all plays into the stigma of mental health issues and creates different narratives that push back progress that has been made. 

Often, unless an athlete speaks up about their issues, people will assume they are fine since they are not presenting any external symptoms. Yet, mental health is not that simple and the stigma that surrounds mental health is extremely problematic and contributes to the major issues that athletes have.

Mental toughness and mental health are typically seen as contradictory terms within sport performance and despite this, athletes become labeled to determine success both on and off the field. This ultimately causes more issues to arise so making sure the narrative of mental health changes can help athletes become the best possible versions of themselves while increasing performance on the field. Normalizing mental issues with the same level of importance of physical injuries can have positive repercussions for all involved. 

Sports are a business when you break it down into the simplest terms so embracing and promoting the health of the athletes can be mutually beneficial for teams and organizations. Throughout history, sports have always adapted to the current climate of the world and society, to the best of its ability, and the issues regarding mental health in sports should not be any different.

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