Depression in athletes is not uncommon. Sport places abnormal stresses on competitors and like a person’s physical attributes, mental health also alters throughout life.
Depression in athletes is now less stigmatised in the public arena, with more high profile sportsmen and women speaking out or asking for help. There are now organisations and sports psychologists available to help.
Recognizing a mental illness, such as depression is of utmost importance. Educating athletes and coaches about its effects is vital. This article does not replace a qualified professional. Always seek specialist advice.
Signs of Depression in Athletes:
The following are often signs of depression in athletes:
Performances from athletes with mental illness drop over time or alter in both competition and training. Some athletes become more aggressive, especially in team sports. This manifests itself in issues with officials or team mates.
Fatigue, illness & injury
A depressed athlete is more susceptible to injury or illness. You might notice them missing more training sessions than others. They might visit health professionals more, either at the place of employment or outside if trying to hide the problem.
Fatigue also causes injuries or illness. Failing to properly recover day to day from normal training loads might indicate a mental health problem.
Athletes who are injured or undergoing rehabilitation are at an increased risk of becoming depressed. As a result, this potentially increases recover time even more.
Decreased interest in activities
Athletes with depression become less interested in training. They may turn up late or leave as soon as possible afterwards. Often athletes hang around to chat, get feedback or analyse their opposition. The depressed athlete is unlikely to be interested.
They may also have decreased focus on the exercise and/or withdraw socially. They may talk less about the activity they are doing and some even quit the sport entirely.
Withdrawal from social contact
Becoming less outgoing than teammates, or withdrawing from contact socially is a sign of clinical depression. The athlette becomes more isolated than normal and becomes reclusive at times. This isolation and quietness may be when they are with their peers or other athletes, or alternatively around family and friends.
Change in personality or habits
In some cases depressed athletes become more angry or violent. 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 and act flat or be a different persona altogether. In some cases, the person may even self-harm and wear clothes to cover this up, or talk about death or dying. Athletes’ normal habits can alter 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.
An increased look of tiredness 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 to express or focus on what they are required to do. Their mind could wander whilst someone is talking to them.
Concussion or a history of concussion also causes reduced concentration and impairs emotional state. If you have suffered concussion you should be monitored for depression.
Drinking habits can change with depression and some athletes may start drinking or drink more excessively and frequently. Athletes may even find an isolated place to drink, but as alcohol affects overall performance, there may be an issue with this in training or competition.
Drug use is also a sign that the athlete might be depressed. Although this is 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 a change in the person, or notice a covering or hiding approach.