GSM Live Insights: The State of Mental Health in Sport
“I just needed to take a step back from trying to run the hard workouts and put in the extreme intensity in order to get over the fact that all of the things I hoped for and trained for and I went to bed thinking about every night were out the window.” – Rebecca Mehra
In a new study from Strava and Stanford University on athlete mental health, 22.5% of participants stated they felt depressed. This marked a drastic increase from the 3.9% of athletes who reported feeling down or depressed this time last year. These findings, combined with disruptions in training and increases in physical injuries, indicate nuanced challenges posed to athlete mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The more that we can have these open conversations with athletes about struggles that everyone is going through, it creates this normalization process where athletes feel like they’re not the only one who’s struggling.”
Dr. Megan Roche was one of the clinical researchers who worked on the Strava and Stanford University study. It was found that 1 in 5 athletes were struggling with their mental health and motivation during COVID-19. This difficulty was compounded by disrupted schedules, financial concerns, and uncertainty about the future.
“This is absolutely not a level playing field. Those that will get the most innovation, those that will get the most support, will be those already in what we might term as ‘elite.’”
Dr. Ian Pickup, Pro Vice Chancellor (Education and Experience) and COO at the University of East London, points out that inequalities in sport have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Social influences based in race, gender, and class may prevent athletes – especially those in youth or grassroots programs – from accessing physical and mental health resources.
“Getting mental health treatment is becoming a part of the fabric of being an athlete.”
Dr. Amber Cargill is a psychiatrist and the Director of Wellness at the National Football League Players Association. As mental health becomes less stigmatized, there is more awareness around the necessity of mental health resources. She notes that there has been an expansion of this at the college level and the NFL has made strides in employing team psychiatrists and creating accessible counseling.
“How do we help create identity outside of sport for athletes?”
Rebecca Mehra is a professional runner who trains in Bend, Oregon. Speaking from experience and her own research with Stanford University, Rebecca says that athletes need to be supported throughout the post-sport journey. Mental health resources must be improved and made accessible at all levels in order to help athletes find their happiness.
“Mattering as a human is not conditional. We matter because we are here, because we are going through these challenges, because we are striving each day to be athletes and that mattering is not conditional on an outcome.”
There is a persisting belief in sport that individual value is inherently dependent on athletic success measured in points, time, and distance. Numbers do not define anyone. Everyone matters and everyone deserves to be heard.
If you or a loved one are in need of mental health assistance, please contact the following resources:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or call 911 immediately
- SAMHSA National Helpline (1-800-662-4357)
- Crisis Text Line (Text HOME to 741741)
- National Institute for Mental Health: MentalHealth.gov
- Coping safely during COVID-19: https://bit.ly/cdcCOVIDmentalhealth
- From the NCAA & Sport Science Institute:
As the world has now reached the eleventh lap of 2020, Global Sport Matters Live examines the intersection of mental health and sport. Specifically, exploring two areas that impact mental health – emotional and physical.
A new study from Stanford University and Strava on athlete mental health found that 22.5% of those surveyed felt down or depressed, up from 3.9% the same time last year. Further, 1 in 5 professional athletes in the study reported difficulty exercising related to mental health.
Although the increase is not entirely surprising, what may be is that the study also revealed evidence of perseverance and resilience among athletes who adapted and adjusted during this time.
This year, there has also been an increase in physical injuries as teams have had to alter offseason training. Although common for athletes, chronic pain can impact sleep, eating habits, as well as mood, which contributes to mental health. As the US elections have loosened marijuana restrictions in five more states, will we see a disruption in pain management prescribed for athletes moving forward?