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5 Reasons Why We Need To Focus on Mental Health in Sports

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Written by Nancy

Even though physical exercise is negatively correlated with the incidence of psychological disorders, there’s a new problem on the horizon. In recent years, the number of people suffering from anxiety, depression and other mood disorders has risen—a significant portion of whom are professional athletes.

Professional and college level athletes are put under immense physical and psychological stress during their careers. With the consistent pressure to perform and maintain near perfect physical health, these athletes are exposed to far more stressors than other people might during their lifetimes. Correspondingly, research from Sweden indicates that 51.7% of all elite athletes suffer from various types of mental health problem, with a higher concentration of female athletes reporting problems.

These dynamics point out the need to consider mental health of equal importance as physical conditions. Considering the role of mental health on physical performance and quality of life, it’s essential for an athlete’s success and their general wellbeing that sports medicine shifts its focus to mental health as well.

Some reasons for this shift include:

1. Increasing Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in Athletes

The International Olympics committee released a statement back in 2019 which emphasized the need to focus on mental health for athletes. The statement was made in response to a recognition that athletes find it far more difficult to report and seek help for their mental health problems compared to other people. Reviews indicate some very shocking statistics:

  • 19% of all elite athletes suffer from alcohol abuse.
  • 34% report suffering from anxiety or depression.
  • 16% suffer from general distress.

These figures are also quite high in college level athletes, with the NCAA reporting that a higher number of athletes suffering from mood disorders, substance abuse and body dysmorphia. These reports indicate that the onset of these conditions is settling in earlier now than ever before, with sports psychologists dealing with 20% of all of these cases.

2. Greater Stress to Perform on Athletes

Back in 2017, the NCAA reported revenues of almost $1 billion. Suffice to say that college athletes are put under immense pressure to perform by coaches and their schools to deliver consistently high performances. This stress, while an unavoidable part of competition, has become increasingly pronounced in these past few years—calling for a greater need for the role of therapy as a part of helping athletes maintain their psychological health.

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3. Barriers to Access to Mental Healthcare

Research directed at the availability of mental healthcare options to athletes shows that there’s a greater degree of stigma associated with seeking out therapy or other types of mental healthcare. The same research indicates that athletes don’t seek help because of an expectation that they ought to tough it out—indicating that the sports industry trivializes athlete mental health.

4. Links between Mental Health and Athlete Performance

Athletes need to be in peak physical and mental shape if they are to consistently perform on the field. It has been shown that athletes never fully recover from their injuries, performing less effectively despite recovering from their physical symptoms. These reflections point out how rehabilitation needs to also focus on the helping players overcome the psychological impact of injuries on their performance.

5. The Link between Sports Injuries and Mental Health

An increasing amount of literature has recently surfaced that highlights the relationship between sports injuries and athlete mental health. Recent statements by leading organizations from around the world like the American Academy of Family Physicians point out that the onset of psychological disorders significantly increases the risk of developing injuries. This consensus gives much weight to the argument that a large part of injury prevention involves also monitoring athlete mental health.

The Sports and Exercise Medicine Institute is a leading sports medicine clinic in Toronto. The organization works with experienced sports psychologists, sports doctors and physiotherapists in Toronto. With clinics in three locations, SEMI offers a wide range of treatments including PRP injections, massage therapy, physiotherapy, psychotherapy for athletes and much more in Toronto. Visit the website today for more information.

About the author

Nancy

I’m Nancy and no, I didn’t always look like I do in that picture on the right. My foray into health and fitness began as a brace-faced, 16 year-old who was too afraid to wear a two-piece at the beach because I felt my body paled in comparison to my much more toned friends.

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