Addressing the Mental Health Pandemic Among Athletes

Addressing the Mental Health Pandemic Among Athletes

Gone are the days that coaches can ignore the mental health struggles of their athletes. Here's how to care for and support your athletes mental health.

There is no health without mental health. And optimal performance demands both.

I’ve been saying a version of that tagline for the past decade in my work with athletes and coaches on issues pertaining to both mental health and high-performance psychology principles. We often default the mental health conversation with athletes to topics such as “mental toughness,” “resiliency,” and “grit” in the context of achieving high performance, but we often fall short in addressing the deeper human concerns that we all face – things like stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. There’s never been a better time to communicate on issues related to mental health given that this topic is undergoing a serious re-branding in the world of athletics with the likes of Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka giving attention to these concerns while performing on the world stage.



例如,我们知道working mothers通过共同经历了高度的艰辛,部分原因是认知载荷增加 - 思想的数量,安全检查以及添加了与生活各个方面不断变化的人的思想,包括a tendency to take on more than working dads (I’m a working dad too, so apologies here fellas for the generalization) regarding household, childcare, and educational needs. (How many athletes do you train that are working mothers?)

这并不奇怪,全球研究97,000名卫生保健工作者整个21个国家 /地区的抑郁症发生率高(轻度至中度范围为57.8%),焦虑症(轻度至中度范围内60%)和创伤后应激障碍(中等范围21%)在过去的16个月中护理。(您培训多少运动员是医护人员?)

Even before COVID, data suggested that athletes are not immune to mental health concerns, with studies showingdepression in collegiate athletes mirroring the depression ratesfor their non-athletic counterparts (as one example). (How many student-athletes do you have?)

Finally, as we collectively emerge in varying waves given location and circumstance with COVID, research is showing that resiliency is scored equally among athletes and non-athletes alike, butathletes may be experiencing higher levels of anxietydue to “negative affectivity” (essentially negative emotional and psychological experiences that emerge in an athlete’s identity when unable to participate in sport). (How many races/events have been canceled for your athletes?)

As coaches, we are in a position to have an amazing opportunity to help. This begins by understanding our clients as people first and athletes second. In turn, this requires us to develop a framework for communication on mental health topics with those we have the privilege to coach and train. Here are a few important steps to consider in this process.


Now, this may seem like a no-brainer starting point, but you’d be surprised at how many people avoid this topic altogether, worrying that bringing up “mental health” will make things worse. But that’s far from the case – asking not just the cursory “how are you doing,” but authentically addressing the deeper level of impact that COVID (for example) may be having shows interest and validation for what your athlete may be going through.


Be Flexible


Follow Up

问曾经是一个很好的开始,但这是不够的。If we are ultimately going to de-stigmatize mental health we need to make it an ongoing discussion with all-important relationships in our lives. That includes connecting the dots that what we are experiencing is deeply human, and that as coaches we are prone to the same afflictions with stress, anxiety, depression and burnout as everyone else. Sharing those concerns and maintaining an appropriate level of openness with our athletes is key in this regard. Maintaining a willingness to continue this conversation throughout the training cycle by follow-up on a regular basis is important.