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9/23/20blog post

Is the unusual sports season impacting athletes’ mental health?

Does the fake noise and fake fans (cardboard cutouts) give players some semblance of normalcy? It’s supposed to. But when players look at the empty stands, reality hits. Where are their rowdy friends and fans with banners and made up chants? Where are their family members? Couple that unusualness with constant guideline changes, last minute game cancelations and reschedules. Understandably, athletes everywhere are feeling disrupted and mentally out of sorts.

While we don’t have a lot of research, especially under the age of 18, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of 9,896 adults, released Aug. 14, found that:

  • 42% reported a mental health issue related to the pandemic
  • 26% reported anxiety in 2020, compared to 8% in 2019
  • 24% reported depression in 2020, compared to 7% in 2019
  • Thoughts of suicide more than doubled at 11% in 2020, compared to 4% in 2019

Additionally, the survey found that as many as one in four college aged people, ages 18 to 24, had seriously considered suicide in the 30 days preceding the survey.

what age groups are most affected?
All ages— but for many different reasons.

  • College athletes are impacted by:
    • Identity: Many competitive athletes have their identity as a person wrapped up in the sports they play. For athletes who have gotten to this level, sports have been their entire life.
  • High school kids are impacted by:
    • Hormonal changes: They often use sports as a way to help reduce stress and control anxiety and depression.
    • Scholarship opportunities: They may feel pressure to obtain a college scholarship for their sport.
  • Younger athletes are impacted by:
    • Socialization: When forced into virtual learning, coupled with not having sports, a child may begin to feel isolated.

How can you help an athlete going through this type of situation?
We all have a lot of feelings right now. Fear that things may never be the same again, sadness at not being able to see friends at school or even confusion as to what’s going to happen next. It is important to recognize these feelings and talk through them. Encourage positive feelings and activities that will help boost optimism about the situation. Keep reassuring them that by having a plan for the future, they will have something to look forward to when things begin to normalize.

“When athletes say, ‘I want to be normal, and go back to the way things were,’ flip the script and ask ‘How do we overcome those obstacles? How do we create something better?’ Our goal should be for each team, each individual player, to be better. Let’s improve ourselves and remind your athlete that they are not alone. The entire world is going through these changes and asking these questions. Encourage them to reach out to a trusted adult to discuss some of these concerns,” Lora Scott, MD, chief, division of sports medicine at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

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Lora Scott, MD

program director sports medicine
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