In Quebec, almost 165,000 youths practice a support at an academic level in conjunction with their studies. Student athletes are often under strong pressure, which can become heavy for a young person anxious to succeed at school, perform in the sport and find time for their social and family life. How athletes deal with these different stressors is a determining factor in their mental health and athletic achievement (Rice, Purcell, De Silva, Mawren, McGorry, & Parker 2016). Indeed, in the general population, one person in five will suffer from a mental health problem in their lifetime, and athletes are no exception (Gulliver, Griffiths, Christensen, 2012).
The most common psychological problems for student athletes include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, problems related to the use of illicit substances and psychological changes following a concussion. So, if athletes are affected by these problems, the culture surrounding the sports world could however result in student athletes experiencing these mental health problems differently.
Already very present in society in general, the stigmatization surrounding mental health represents an even greater challenge for certain student athletes who, under the pretext that they are performers and models of success for their entourage, hesitate to ask for help. Therefore, many of them remain silent, too used to hearing that they have to be mentally strong to be successful in sport. In reality, only one athlete in 10 seeks help when they need it. A rather worrisome statistic which can be explained different ways: denial, embarrassment, stigmatization or even a poor understanding of “psychological” illnesses compared to physical ones (Schwenk, 2000). Moreover, some athletes may fear that their coaches and teammates learn that they are consulting someone and that this negatively affects the perception of their peers who see them as being weak (Gulliver, Griffiths, Christensen, 2012; Watson, 2005).
Student athletes often have catch phrases like “No pain no gain” or “There’s no I in team” repeated to them. These sports attitudes can also contribute to reinforcing the stigmatization surrounding mental health problems. Since work and doggedness are generally rewarded, some student athletes do not want to admit their needs or acknowledge their personal problems to avoid damaging their relationships with their teammates or influencing their coach’s confidence in their ability to perform. In this respect, a study (Gulliver, Griffiths and Christensen, 2012) showed that more than 40% of the obstacles to seeking help are related to the stigmatization and embarrassment that an athlete would feel when they seek help.
Certain characteristics specific to student athletes may lead to a greater risk of their developing mental health problems. Among them: stress related to athletic performance, injuries, living in a different city from their birth city and displaying riskier behaviours in terms of alcohol consumption (Gulliver, Griffiths and Christensen, 2012). Moreover, 51% of athletes who sustain injuries suffer from medium to severe depressive symptoms. Injured athletes, those who are close to retiring and those who are experiencing performance problems would also be more at risk for experiencing mental health problems (Rice and coll., 2016).
In short, it is high time that mental health takes its rightful place in discussions in sport environments in order to help eradicate the stigmatization that is unfortunately associated with it. This mentality must change so that mental health is treated as seriously and openly as physical injuries. That is why Sport’Aide is committed to opening the discussion on mental health and offers a crisis line to all athletes who are experiencing such difficulties. This service is also offered to the entourage of athletes dealing with these concerns. You can reach us at 1-833-245-4357 (HELP).
Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & Christensen, H. (2012). Barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking for young elite athletes: a qualitative study. BMC psychiatry, 12(1), 157.
Rice, S. M., Purcell, R., De Silva, S., Mawren, D., McGorry, P. D., & Parker, A. G. (2016). The mental health of elite athletes: a narrative systematic review. Sports medicine, 46(9), 1333-1353.
Schwenk, T. L. (2000). The stigmatisation and denial of mental illness in athletes. British journal of sports medicine, 34(1), 4-5.
Watson, J. C. (2005). College student-athletes’ attitudes toward help-seeking behavior and expectations of counseling services. Journal of College Student Development, 46(4), 442-449.
Indeed, in the general population, one person in five will suffer from a mental health problem in their lifetime, and athletes are no exception.