Mental Health in Sports

As May comes to a close, so does Mental Health Awareness month. But, the work doesn’t stop here. After two years of a pandemic, this year’s mental health awareness month was more important than ever, and we saw that demonstrated numerous times in professional sports.

Resources, support, and education are becoming more widespread each and every day. Whether it is your brother, neighbor, or your favorite professional athlete, everyone is finally starting to share the importance of taking care of your mental health. As May concludes, let’s look at mental health in sports.

Mental Health in the NBA

The NBA was one of the first major sports to be transparent about the mental health of its athletes. Mental health in basketball has been talked about since 2018, thanks to Kevin Love’s vulnerability.

Love bravely shared about his struggles with anxiety and depression after he suffered a panic attack during a game four years ago.

“For 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was a form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different,” Love wrote in a letter for the Player’s Tribune.

He continued on in his letter to share how this mindset was incredibly toxic. It hindered his ability to truly be at peace with his success until he turned for help. For Love, “help” came in the form of talk therapy. Therapy helped him work through his thoughts and emotions and gave him the tools he needed to be his best self. His letter touched fans, coaches, and players alike. He gave others the outside validation they hoped for to seek help, and even inspired other professional athletes to share their stories as well.

In 2020, Jaylen Brown followed in Kevin Love’s footsteps and spoke out in support of mental health awareness. He expressed the importance of being open and honest about how you are feeling.

Love and Brown inspired athletes of many other sports to share their mental health struggles, reminding everyone they’re not alone, no matter how it may feel.

Changing the Way the NFL Approaches Mental Health

In 2019, the NFLPA and NFL created a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee intended to encourage players to look after their mental well-being. These support systems have already benefited so many players, encouraging them to find the help they deserve.

In the last year, numerous “big name” players have opened up about their mental health. Last season, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, pulled himself out of the remainder of the season in order to seek treatment for his mental health. Ridley’s courageous acts impacted so many as people saw their favorite player take time to focus on himself.

Ridley’s bravery is complemented by many other star players. Athletes like AJ Brown, DJ Chark, Solomon Thomas, Dak Prescott, and Hayden Hurst are among the NFL players sharing their stories. We would be remiss to not acknowledge the impact this has on destigmatizing mental health in America. When children, teenagers, and young adults see their role models advocating for themselves, it inspires the next generation to do the same.

Well-Being Awareness in Other Athletics

Perhaps the biggest demonstration of mental health in sports over the last year came during the summer Olympics. Gymnastics powerhouse, Simone Biles, forfeited her place in the competition for her mental well-being. She was projected to bring home another gold medal, or many more gold medals, but her mind wasn’t in it. When she decided to withdraw from the competition for her mental well-being, it changed the way people look at the Olympics forever. They’re not just athletes, they’re people too. And they have bad days just like everyone else. The support she received stood tall above any criticism.

Many other athletes from many other sports have begun to stand tall in the face of mental health. Swimmer Michael Phelps, NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch, MLB pitcher Ryan Sherriff, and numerous other athletes have stepped away from their respective sports to get mental health assistance.

When professional athletes speak out about their mental health, it humanizes them in a way that many people often stray far from. Some get caught in a rhythm of picturing them as “figures” and “celebrities” instead of humans with lives that ebb and flow just like yours.  

Looking back a few years, it’s important to note the progress that we have made toward destigmatizing mental health, but there is still a long way to go. We must continue to support those going through tough times and encourage them to seek help. No job, no exam, and no game are as important as your mental well-being. Everyone deserves to feel like they are the best version of themselves. As Mental Health Awareness month comes to a close, check in on your mental health. How are you doing, truly? If you find yourself needing a listening ear or a little more help, there is no shame in reaching out.

Resources for Mental Health Assistance:

National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255

Veterans: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386

Substance Abuse Hotline: 1-800-662-4357

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233