By: Om Chavan and Millen
Mental health can be defined as a persons social, psychological and emotional well being.
Mental Illness affects 19% of the adult population, 46% of teenagers and 13% of children each year. However only half of these people recieve any sort of treatment because of the stigma attatched to mental health. Untreated mental issues can contribute to higher medical bills, poor perfmance in academics/sports and increased risk of suicide.
Why is mental health important for athletes?
Playing sports does not make athletes immune to mental health challenges. With the pressure to perfom in games and practice sessions, being an athlete can be extremely challenging and mentally demanding. Student athletes have the additional pressure of maintaing good grades, doing their project work and attending lectures inspite of having tiring practice sessions and games throughout the academic year.
Being an athlete can be mentally challenging also because of the added stress to maintain a social life and the fear of missing out. Missing out on friendly gatherings, parties and even a single get together due to practice sessions or games is a part and parcel of the athlete’s lifestyle. It however, does not change the fact that it can be mentally draining.
Among professional athletes, data shows that upto 35% of them suffer with mental health crisis which may manifest into eating disorders, anxiety, burnout and depression. 33% of all college students experience significant symptomps of depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders. Among that group 30% of them seek help.
A coach’s role
Coaches have the potential to help and support athlete mental wellness, but many are unsure what to do and concerned they might unintentionally enagage in behaviours that might negatively impact the athlete. Educating the coaches about mental health and its impact on the athletes is an important step.
Being a role model is a super important step in the process of building strong-willed athletes. Young athletes are very impressionable and will inculcate habits and behaviours often displayes by their seniors and role models.
Positive reinforcement instead over negative feedback to keep high enthusiasm and fearlessness amongst the athletes. This point is important because this well make the athletes understand it’s alright to fail and make mistakes and establishes a sense of confidence in them.
In an athletic culture where mental toughness and grit are emphasized as the next new skill to train, student athletes often feel like they need to go through their struggles alone and keep their pain in the dark. As a result coaches need to be aware of the warning signs and symptopms of mental health issues that are common within the student-athlete population.
Simply knowing the warning signs and having a direct refferal source can be the best way to help an athlete in help.
In a coach-athlete relationship, good and open communication with a decent amount of mental health awareness is of utmost importance. This makes the process of diagnosing and treatment of the athlete suffering a mental health disorder smooth and easy.