Statistics indicate that up to 17 percent of college athletes suffer from depression. This number rises to 25 percent for professional athletes. Unfortunately, equally alarming is the fact that athletes do not seek assistance from coaches, counselors or mental health professionals for their problems.
Living in Denial
While engaged in any type of sport, athletes often must put themselves in a competitive state of mind before an event to appear formidable and invincible to opponents. Unfortunately, this mindset often permeates their personal lives. Some believe male athletes in particular avoid seeking mental health help for fear of losing their masculinity. However, females athletes are also plagued with depression. Many are under the false assumption that experiencing emotions is a sign of weakness and must be buried or avoided.
By living in denial, athletes build barriers in resistance to getting the help that they need to overcome the problem and lead healthier lives. On the other hand, instead of internalizing feelings, some athletes vent emotions by acting out inappropriately. These tactics often include engaging in high risk behaviors that put themselves or others in danger.
Stressors Unique to Athletes
Amateur and professional athletes experience the same common stressors that affect everyday people. However, in addition, they experience intense pressure from a desire to perform better than the rest and come out on top. Athletes also commonly endure injuries that may require surgical repair and long periods of rehabilitation that sideline careers temporarily or permanently. These factors only add to emotional and mental stress. With the extreme amount of time and effort devoted to a particular sport, suddenly unable to participate comes as a traumatic shock.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Athletes participating in sports having a high rate of physical impact and the likelihood of suffering a traumatic brain injury and concussions may also later fall victim to chronic traumatic encephalopathy and mental illness. While the connection between concussions and CTE are not fully understood, researchers believe that the greater the number of head injuries that an athlete experiences, the greater the likelihood that permanent brain damage occurs, which leads to a wide array of psychological and mental health symptoms including depression.
By increasing the awareness of depression in athletes, loved ones, coaches and fellow athletes have the opportunity to play an important role in encouraging depressed athletes to seek professional help. Recognizing the symptoms of depression is the first step in dealing with the problem. Depressed athletes often:
• Suffer from generalized fatigue that affects all aspects of life
• Display irrational irritability
• Express hopelessness
• Lose self-confidence
• Drink excessively or use drugs
• Have suicidal thoughts