Generally, athletes’ overall mental wellness, performance in sports, and other areas of life have a direct relationship. However, various reports indicate that almost 35 percent of athletes suffer from one form of mental health crisis during their lives. Unfortunately, some of these cases often go unnoticed. 

Mental health practitioners offer treatment programs that help individuals struggling with various mental health issues and substance abuse or addictions. Overall, the goal is to ensure that individuals unlock and actualize their full potential by overcoming these challenges.   

Mental illness can manifest itself in many ways. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common mental health issues experienced by athletes: 

  •  Bipolar Disorder

This mental health condition causes extreme mood swings that usually last for days, resulting in severe changes in concentration, energy, and activity levels. 

  •  Depression

Depression is relatively common among athletes, resulting in poor self-esteem and dropping performance levels. Some common symptoms of depression include persistent sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.  

  •  Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a more serious mental health condition that severely affects cognition, causing false and abnormal interpretations of reality. Schizophrenia can lead to distorted behavioral patterns that interfere with daily life. Athletes on the schizophrenia spectrum find it challenging to participate in rigorous training schedules. 

  •  Burnout

Burnout is exhaustion caused by an excessive workload and chronic stress. Some common symptoms of burnout include cynicism, fatigue, and worthlessness. Burnout can lead to a mental health crisis. 

  • Substance Abuse and Addiction

The uncontrolled use of prescription medicine, alcohol, or illegal drugs results in adverse withdrawal effects when one tries to wean themselves off them. Some withdrawal effects can be severe enough to induce mental health challenges. 

Substance abuse is common among athletes, caused by excessive use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to hasten their recovery from injuries.

Next, consider the importance of good mental health among athletes: 

1. Boosts Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

Despite having superior skills and abilities in different areas, a lack of self-confidence caused by poor self-esteem often holds many people back. Self-esteem refers to how an individual feels about themselves and the things they do. 

Mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety interfere with how a person views themselves and can lead to low self-esteem. In athletes, low self-esteem and ensuing low self-confidence can lead to excessive negative thinking and unnecessary self-criticism. It diminishes their interest in participating in sports events with high chances of success. Good mental health enables athletes to trust in their abilities to attain their goals. 

2. Improves Emotional Self-Regulation

Sports psychologists consider wholesome emotional regulation a critical psychological skill that impacts an athlete’s performance. Emotional regulation is the deliberate or automatic usage of tactics enabling one to initiate, manage, modify, or express emotions in any scenario. Examples of emotional regulation include avoiding a highly charged emotional moment on the pitch.

Emotional regulation enhances mental grit and keeps athletes going during challenging circumstances. 

3. Enhances Quality Of Relationship With Trainers And Team Members

Trust is a critical component of healthy relationships. Mental health issues like stress and anxiety disorders may cause people to overthink and question the motives of others around them. Other mental challenges, such as borderline disorder, may lead to fear and instability, making it difficult to trust others. 

Sports thrive on trust and teamwork between team members and coaches. Poor trust levels arising from mental health crises among athletes can result in a stressful environment that creates tension among team members. Therefore, good mental health among athletes is critical for healthy relationships among team members and is vital for optimal performance. 

4. Improves Critical Relationships Beyond The Pitch

Social support, specifically family relationships, plays an invaluable role in an athlete’s performance. Mental health challenges often result in strained family relationships that negatively affect athletic performance due to stress. 

Athletes with loving and satisfying family relationships demonstrate higher self-motivation levels, which drives them to engage in activities that increase their probability of success. Good mental health among athletes promotes stronger family relations, 

5. Increases Attentional Focus 

Attentional focus is the process by which an athlete apportions mental resources to both relevant and irrelevant cues at any given time, affecting performance. Sports-related activities are usually action-packed, which makes an athlete’s mind just as busy. 

Attentional focus increases an athlete’s capacity to only focus on the critical things that positively affect performance. For instance, during a marathon race, an athlete needs to accord total concentration to personal endurance and the race at hand despite the presence of cheering masses along the sides of the marathon course.  

Good mental health enhances an athlete’s emotional stability, increasing attentional focus that helps to manage their internal and external environments for improved performance.  

6. Improved Sleep Quality 

Sleep deprivation negatively impacts athletic performance. Most people with mental health issues struggle with sleep disorders such as insomnia. For an athlete, this implies never getting sufficient rest and recovery after intensive training. Furthermore, sleep deprivation compromises the immune system, increasing an athlete’s risk of illness and the time required to recover from injuries. 

A good state of mind improves sleep quality and promotes overall health. And good sleep also improves an athlete’s form and function by increasing muscle glycogen content, maximal strength, and sprint force.

7. Boosts Performance Outcomes 

Stress is a significant source of distraction among athletes. Therefore, when athletes eliminate or manage most of their stress factors, they’re usually able to give their all during competitive sports. 

Maintaining a sound mind allows athletes to enjoy their sport and fully immerse themselves in the moment. This heightens their determination levels, improving their performance and chances of success. 

Final Word

The fact that athletes need to pay a lot of attention to their mental health can’t be over-emphasized. If you’re an athlete or know someone who’s currently struggling with a mental health issue, help is readily available. Many others have been in that space before and have overcome it with the guidance of compassionate mental health professionals and within safe environments. 

By John T. Montejano, a licensed professional counsellor currently pursuing PhD studies in clinical psychology.

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