Mental Health issues within the sport are important to address. Like a person's physical attributes mental health alters throughout life. Recognising a mental illness such as depression in athletes is of utmost importance and 1 in 4 people in the U.K can be affected by mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Athletes are no different to anyone else and the pressure of media, peers, success, competing, training and winning can all contribute to a depressive state.
Depression in athletes through a mental illness is now more commonly known in the public arena with more sportsmen and women speaking out or correctly asking for help like Marcus Trescothick or Dame Kelly Holmes. There are now organisations set up to help and sports psychologist either part time, full time or immediately accessible within a sport.
Signs of Depression in Athletes:
Performances can drop or alter in both competition and training. Skillset can also change due to tiredness and decreased concentration. Performances can also drop over time and also in some athletes is associated with a more aggressive nature in team sports that could result in issues with the official.
Fatigue, illness, injury or failing to recover
The athlete being more susceptible to injury or an increased in illness with days off are signs of a depression. The athlete might also start seeing the health professional more either at the place of employment or outside if trying to hide the problem. If an athlete is injured or undergoing rehabilitation and not competing they can become depressed and require vigilance and the injury may take longer to heal. Fatigue can also cause injuries or illness and an increase in masseur appointments or a failing to properly recover day to day with adequate training loads can be signs of a mental health problem.
Decreased interest in activities
An athlete can become less interested in training or extra skills they require to perform. They may even start turning up late or going straight away post the activity to not do homework on analysis of other teams or their opposition individually. They may also decrease focus on the exercise or reduce talking about the activity they are doing and some even quit the sport entirely.
Withdrawal from social contact – quietness
The athlete can be seen to be less outgoing than their teammates, and withdraws from contact socially is a common sign of clinical depression. The person becomes more isolated from normal and becomes reclusive at times. A social contact can be within their peers or other athletes or alternatively around family and friends.
Change in personality or habits – more irritable
Depression can be associated with more anger and violence in some cases. Frustration in athletes can occur with themselves, teammates or staff and are signs of a mental health problem. Irritability can be at the place of activity or outside. The athlete in some cases may cry more or alternatively look, act flat or be of different persona altogether. The person may even self- harm and wear clothes to cover this up or in some cases talk about death or dying. Athlete’s normal habits can alter with depression and more isolation is usually a sign.
Change in Sleeping or eating habits
Sleep times and quality is often monitored in athletes with well-being questionnaires commonly done. A change in sleeping habits could include regular naps between sessions and sometimes an athlete finding a corner more regularly to sleep during the day. The increased look of tiredness or lapses and reduced concentration can also be signs of depression. Sometimes the athlete starts eating more on their own and weight losses or gains can be seen. These all affect performance in both training and competition.
Depression can cause difficulty in remembering or concentrating in meetings, during their activity or performance, and in everyday life. The athlete may also find it difficult in expressing or focusing what they are required to do or their mind wanders whilst someone is talking to them. Concussion (traumatic brain injury) or a history of concussion can also cause reduced concentration levels and impair emotional state and should be monitored for depression.
Drinking habits can change with depression and some athletes may even start drinking or others become more excessive or frequent. Athletes may even find an isolated place to drink but alcohol affects overall performance so there may be an issue with this in training or competition. Drug use can also be a sign that the athlete is depressed, although usually picked up by anti-doping organizations the athlete may not have been tested when the drug was in their system. With alcohol and drugs teammates or other peers may notice an issue or notice a covering or hiding approach.
It is important to recognize a mental illness issue and get help and to speak out will stop the stigma attached. Mental wellbeing is important and it is the role of all supporting staff, peers, family, and friends to manage and aid an athlete before, during and post their activity or their career. Things like injury fear or what to do when retirement comes can create a depressive state and alter emotions and should be addressed with the athlete. Mental health training and programs are within some academy teams as part of their education and fear to not speak out or ask for help should be ingrained in all. It is important to recognise the signs or behavior changes and if depression is thought to be present a mental health professional should be sought to help.