Let’s talk about athletes and mental health. If you or someone you know has ever been an athlete- whether in High School, College or beyond- you many know that the moment you make the team is a feeling like no other. There is excitement, anxiousness, bliss and even power!

Then, you experience winning your first game or competition. That feeling of winning is so overwhelming words are hard to find that do it justice. But what about the other feelings that come with being an athlete? The pressure, stress, anxiety, or what about burn out? Not to mention, sometimes you may experience being in a locker room full of people; your friends, your family, your team, but still feeling like the loneliest person in the world. These feelings, these moments are real. So here is something to think about: Could the uniforms and accolades be covering up something bigger?

Let’s talk about what we think of when we see or hear the term ‘Athlete’. For some, you may think of someone who is strong, dedicated, driven, and is always pushing themselves. That Athletes are constantly working to prove they are the best and prove to others and themselves they deserve to be where they are. You may think athletes are the epitome of strong mental and physical health. Others may think about athletes from a spectator’s point of view. You love to watch them succeed and praise them when they win but seem to feel upset or place blame when they lose.

Either way, Athletes tend to come out on the field, court, track, floor, or stage and put on a brave face for their fans. As a Therapist for Young Adults in Atlanta, I am noticing there is one thing no one is talking about in regard to Athletes- their mental health.

The Pressure and Mental Health Stigma in Athletes

If you are an Athlete, you are likely a High Achiever. You set goals and expect to achieve them. You work hard and put a lot of time and effort into your craft. But sometimes you feel like no one really understands the pressure you are under,  or sees the pain, and the signs of struggle. As a mental health therapist in Atlanta, I am familiar with this silent suffering of Athletes. 

The stigma of mental health issues is still in the air, especially among athletes. Despite more awareness and more people speaking up about it, it still seems to be something that is kept a secret in the athletic world. We all get stressed, anxious, and sad. However, there is a stigma around people who are perceived as strong- such as athletes. There is a belief that if you are an athlete, you are supposed to be strong- both mentally and physically. And if you express a need for mental health support, that is somehow a sign of weakness. This could not be further from the truth.

Athletes are Under a Unique Stress

Let’s talk a little about stress. Stress is a normal reaction to pressure, threats or feeling a little out of control in situations. When you don’t manage stress in a healthy way, this can actually trigger a cascade of additional health problems, both physically and mentally. Most people have experienced stress and understand what it may feel or look like. However, we need to understand that Athletes are under unique types and amounts of stress in their day-to-day lives.

Think about a typical day for an athlete. I may look like waking up for early morning workouts, ensuring your getting enough and proper food in your body, going to class and studying if you’re a student-athlete, or attending meetings in addition to practices. But a jam-packed day is only ONE component that creates stress for Athletes. There is that perfectionist mindset, or even shifting into a type of aggressive mindset to get your head in the game. Maybe there is a fear of letting down teammates, your coach, or even the fans in the stand. All of this can contribute to the feeling of being unsatisfied with yourself no matter what you do. As a Therapist for Young Adults in Atlanta, I see that all of this pressure, burnout, and expectation,  often leads to anxiety and depression.

Getting Support as an Athlete

First, if you feel like you may be experiencing anxiety or depression, know that you are not alone. Also, know that anxiety and depression can manifest in different ways for different people. For example, depression can look like a smile, laughing at practice, excited for the win, but then going home, wanting to be alone, and feeling sad for no apparent reason. 

It can be hard to admit when you need help. But it takes a certain strength to know your limits, and that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. Think about it: as an Athlete, you are put through battles that challenge your mindset to focus on goals and performing well. So what if your mindset begins to decline? How could your mental health be affecting your performance? 

As a Therapist for Young Adults in Atlanta, I know that unmanaged anxiety and depression can be distracting. It can hold you back from doing the simplest tasks. Imagine being distracted right before you are about to do an even bars routine or race your car or shoot from the free throw line?

The Good News

More and more professional athletes are speaking out about mental health and how important it is to make that a number one priority. These athletes that we look up to are setting a path for others to follow and it is about time we started talking about the hard mental suffering these special individuals go through. No one expects you to suffer in silence. As an Athlete, you take care of your physical health- it’s now time to normalize taking care of your mental health. At the end of the day, both affect your performance and its time to get the best support. If you are an Athlete and want to break free from suffering in silence, reach out to an Atlanta Therapist for Young Adults, today!