By Shimano Bailey
It is easy to recognise the many exceptional benefits of sports. But there is also a darker side that is often unnoticed. Athletic strain is well-documented and commonly discussed. But what about athletes’ mental struggles, not just at professional levels but at all levels?
The topic of mental health among athletes has gained significant attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the challenges and pressures that come with being in the spotlight and pursuing excellence in sports. While athletes are often admired for their physical prowess and achievements, they are not immune to mental health issues. The price of being strong and successful in sports can sometimes take a toll on their psychological well-being.
Nevertheless, mental health in sports has not been discussed as openly as physical health and injury, but it is an important issue that needs to be addressed. The constant pressure and dedication needed in competitive sports can make athletes more prone to mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. As such, it is essential to provide athletes with the resources and support necessary to maintain healthy mental health habits and seek proper treatment when needed.
However, we saw in 2021 that mental health had become more of a focus for athletes. Naomi Osaka opted out of the French Open, Wimbledon and other tournaments to protect her mental health, and Simone Biles opted out of gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics. This sparked a much-needed conversation about the importance of mental health, inspiring athletes around the world to prioritise their own mental health. Additionally, athletes began to speak out more about the need for greater mental health support in the sports community.
Moreover, it is important to note that the American Psychiatric Association has pointed out the dangers of assuming athletes should be mentally healthy, or the false notion that “being strong” means being able to handle things on your own. This is because mental health issues can affect anyone regardless of physical strength or ability. Furthermore, focusing on physical health alone does not address the underlying mental health issues that athletes may be facing. To ensure the well-being of athletes, it is important to recognise and address these mental health issues.
In like manner, one of the most significant things we can do for athletes’ mental health is to remove the stigma associated with mental health. We can also enforce the message that help is available through private entities and the Ministry of Health; Mental Health and Psychosocial Services. It is everyone’s right to seek help and to find a treatment plan that suits them. We must also ensure that athletes have access to resources and support to help them manage their mental health. Coaches and team managers should be trained to recognise signs of mental distress and be prepared to direct players towards the appropriate help.
Undoubtedly, mental health should be treated as any other health issue, with the same level of importance and attention. Seeking professional help should not be considered a sign of weakness, but rather a way to take proactive steps towards bettering one’s health. Mental health professionals can provide guidance, support, and resources for those who need it. It is essential to recognise that mental health is just as important as physical health and should be taken seriously. Seeking help is a sign of strength and resilience. St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ goal as a sports tourism destination must include all aspects of the athlete’s well-being, including their physical and mental health.
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