3 mental health problems in elite athletes

Prolonged demand not only has its consequences on the physique of elite athletes. On many occasions, they also suffer from problems linked to their psychological health.

Last update: 09 August, 2022

Cases of mental health problems in top-level athletes are becoming more and more common. Until a while ago, this was a subject that was not very well known.but it ceased to be taboo and opened the doors to a more human facet of the great stars.

Negative emotions are impossible to avoid. These occur, to a greater or lesser extent, in various areas of life. Of course, professional sport is a context in which they can appear.

It is an environment charged with pressures, decisive moments and stress. Some athletes have the appropriate tools to deal with these emotions, while others fall into certain mental health problems that must be identified and combated.

The most frequent mental health problems among athletes

In recent years, cases such as those of the American gymnast Simone Biles and the Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka have put the issue of mental health at the center of the scene. Both decided to withdraw from the Olympic Games and grand slamsrespectively, claiming that they could not cope with the pressure they felt.

But they have not been the only ones. Similarly, swimming superstar Michael Phelps talked about it and even made a documentary called the weight of gold. In it, he details how the pursuit of performance brought consequences to his health. Also the Formula 1 driver, Lando Norris, has expressed himself in the same sense.

Now, what are those mental health problems in athletes that occur more frequently? We describe some of them.

The pressure in elite sport is high. Competitors are under constant stress.

1. Anxiety

Anxiety is a state of concern that combines emotions linked to nervousness and tension. in athletes, can significantly affect performance if left uncheckedsince it causes lack of concentration and decreases physical capacity in general.

There are several factors that can cause anxiety. In sports, it usually appears in the moments before an important competition. It derives from the concern of the protagonist to achieve the objectives set for that particular event.

As detailed in a study published in the journal Contemporary dilemmas: education, politics and values, anxiety is negative when it is not managed well. On the other hand, if you know how to control your emotions, this feeling can generate a beneficial activation for concentration and performance.



2. Depression

A systematic review published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that 34% of active and retired professional athletes who were studied suffer or have suffered from depression.

Depression is a more frequent disorder than is believed and it is common for it to be underdiagnosed. It is characterized by presence of negative feelings that drain the patient’s energy and motivation to carry out their activities. This includes both your obligations, as well as those things that you enjoyed.

In athletes, there are studies linking depression with a prolonged state of burnout. Namely, extreme mental fatigue caused by long periods of high demand. This is a circumstance that applies perfectly to the lives of elite athletes, who are often subject to constant public evaluation of their performance.

The characteristic symptoms of a state of depression are the following:

  • General restlessness or irritability.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Difficult to focus.
  • Loss of pleasure in pleasant activities.

It is a disorder that must be diagnosed and treated by a health professional.

3. Overtraining, another mental health problem in athletes

Overtraining syndrome is caused, as its name suggests, by an excess in the amount and intensity of the athlete’s training. It is a condition that affects both the physical and mental aspects of the athlete..

In other words, it generates fatigue in the body, but it also has psychological consequences. The main ones are demotivation, reluctance and even lack of interest in the activity carried out.

This is dangerous. If extended over time, it is capable of generating greater rejection and to cause the abandonment of the sport.

Overtraining is an attitude that both elite athletes and those who do some amateur discipline can have.


Mental health problems in athletes must be addressed

Until not long ago, talking about these types of difficulties was seen as a sign of “weakness” in the field of professional sports. Although this belief has been uprooted, there are still those who think so. This inhibits those affected when whitewashing their experiences.

Nevertheless, it is important to raise awareness about the importance of treating mental health problems in athletes. In addition to living in a demanding and stressful environment, they are people and have their lives outside of sport. Situations that affect their psychological well-being can also arise there.

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