4 Reasons Athletes’ Mental Health Is Neglected – Articles & Videos, Behavioral Health, Featured, Health Topics, Neuroscience


21 October 2021

By: Katie Woehnker

Lane Johnson, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps – some of the world’s greatest athletes have courageously stepped forward to voice the need to put their mental health first.

Kristine Keane, Psy.D., clinical and athletic neuropsychologist, looks at why the mental health of athletes continues to be neglected and what we can do to help them.

  1. Mixed messaging. “We care, but are you even better off? “

    “There’s a mixed message, athletes are told their mental health is important, but it’s not always up to date,” notes Dr. Keane.

    “For athletes with concussions, their mental health can play an important role in their recovery and unfortunately some athletes are still asked by their coaches, ‘When is this going to end? “”

  2. Physical well-being takes precedence over mental well-being.

    “As soon as Simone Biles announced her retirement, she was criticized, and that’s what athletes fear most, whether they are seen as weak or cowardly by their coaches or teammates. It’s like their mental health isn’t as important as their physical health, ”adds Dr. Keane.

    “They may not feel like they have a say in their own body, or even that it matters. Simone said she was surprised when people came to support her.

  3. Lack of balance for training and rest.

    “Youth sports have evolved with more training, higher levels of competition and multiple environments in which to compete; it can be very difficult to find a balance between work and rest, ”says Dr Keane. “Many elite athletes are perfectionists, and when it comes to their mental well-being, they can put them on the back burner to focus on their physical well-being instead. “

    Athletes are generally praised for their drive, persistence and determination, but rarely for getting a well-deserved rest or a day of sanity.

  4. Depression can be misdiagnosed as symptoms of overtraining.

    Symptoms of overtraining overlap with symptoms of depression, including:

    • Fatigue or lack of energy
    • Less motivation
    • Mood swings
    • Mental fog
    • Disrupted sleep schedule
    • Difficulty concentrating

“Athletes are particularly vulnerable to misdiagnosis,” explains Dr. Keane. “Some practitioners will look at symptoms only from a physical perspective, instead of a biopsychosocial model, where we recognize multiple components – their biological, social and psychological well-being.”

Without looking at the overall health of an athlete, a mental health problem can be misdiagnosed as a physical problem.

Tips for parents of young athletes

  • Take note of any changes in your child’s mental health.

“For parents and coaches, recognize that these kids are under a lot of pressure and watch out for signals and symptoms that could indicate changes in mental health,” says Dr. Keane.

“Personality changes are usually one of the first signs you may notice, along with mood swings, difficulty concentrating, irritability, trouble sleeping, lethargic behavior or withdrawal from friends. or his teammates. Sometimes the symptoms won’t be as obvious, but it’s just a matter of being aware of and in tune with them.

  • Have open conversations about mental health needs.

Have open conversations with your kids and athletes, recognize what mental health issues are and that they’re really part of an athlete’s journey, notes Dr. Keane.

Studies show that mental health problems are just as common among athletes as they are in the general population.

Lane Johnson, the Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle, took an extended absence after saying he was battling depression and anxiety.

“Lane came out saying he kept his mental health issues buried – an incredibly common occurrence for athletes. They can say they don’t want to be seen as a weak or lesser competitor, ”adds Dr. Keane.

“It is so important to build a foundation of trust with our children and athletes while they are young – let them know that it is normal and safe to share these feelings. “

  • Keep mental health and physical health at the same level.

“Just like you wouldn’t send your child to the field with an unhealed fracture, you can’t ignore mental health issues because it can cause other injuries,” Keane adds. “Mental health must be a priority just as much as physical health. You can’t stress the value of self-care, it’s a vital skill that can be learned early on, ”concludes Keane.

Next Steps and Resources:

The material provided by HealthU is intended to be used for general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your doctor for individual care.


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