Mad Skills and Mental Illness
Whenever you think of athletes there are many superlatives that come to mind, “strong,” “fierce,” “powerful,” “agile,” “amazing,” and many others just to name a few.
On the contrary few would use words such as, “depression,” “anxiety,” “addiction,” “self-injurious,” “mood disorder,” or “bipolar,” and to describe athletes. Yet, in some cases these are the exact symptoms and disorders that many top athletes grapple with.
In saying that I do not believe these disorders are new. It is my belief that many of our greatest athletes have suffered from mental illness, but it was hidden to protect the athletes from appearing weak.
Today, athletes such as Michael Phelps, Brandon Marshall, Kevin Love, Chamique Holdsclaw, Mariel Madrid, and Sally Shipard along with many others have come out of the closet as it relates to their mental illness.
The Phi Slama Jamma
One of the most enduring college basketball teams of all-times was the 1981-1982 Houston Cougars Team. The team featured Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon along with Michael Young, Rob Williams, and Larry Micheaux.
They were known for high flying slam dunks, fast breaks, and high octane offense. They made it to the 1982 Final Four, but lost to the North Carolina Tar Heels led by a guy named of Michael Jordan.
With that being said, I believe there are five mental illnesses that, like the Phi Slama Jamma cause many athletes to go down in defeat with a slam dunk. These five mental illnesses are: depression, anxiety, self-injurious behavior, panic attacks, and PTSD.
Depression in Athletes
Anger, mood swings, and general discontent are all indicators of depression. The interesting fact is that many people don’t look for these symptoms as it relates to depression.
Often times the obvious signs like crying spells, sadness of mood, loss of interest in pleasurable things, and restlessness are only suspected. As a result of that many athletes ignore the aforementioned indicators and go into a downward spiral.
When athletes suffer from depression it shows in their ability to execute or the lack thereof. Depressive episodes can also hinder an athlete’s’ ability concentrate and focus. Moreover, athletes that are not being treated for depression lose that “killer instinct” and their will to win is compromised.
Anxiety in Athletes
One of the surprising symptoms of anxiety disorder is fatigue. As an athlete, being fatigued can hinder your performance. Along with fatigue also comes lack of concentration and irritability.
There are also other symptoms such as racing and unwanted thoughts, fear, feelings of impending doom, insomnia, and even heart palpitations. Immediate treatment with a trained professional can aid in reducing these symptoms.
Self-Injurious Behavior in Athletes
Some injurious behaviors include:
• Picking scabs or interfering with wound healing
• Punching self or objects
• Infecting oneself
• Inserting objects in body opening
• Bruising or breaking bones
• Some forms of hair pulling
• Other various forms of bodily harm
For example, if an athlete is always punching objects to relieve stress or deal with their emotions that is a form of self-injurious behavior.
One of the unique self-injurious behaviors listed is hair pulling or Trichotillomania Disorder. Some common behaviors of this disorder include: compulsivity, impulsivity, and addictive behaviors.
Hall Of Fame Boxer Alexis Argüello shocked the world in 2009 when he committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart. In 2012 Hall Fame and NFL Football Player and Player of the Decade Junior Seau committed suicide as well.
Although his death was triggered by Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), it still demonstrates the problems that exist with athletes and self-injurious behavior.
Imagine going to shoot a free throw in a game and suddenly it feels like you are having chest pains. While your heart rate speeds up, you also begin to have difficulty breathing, and your hands and arms go numb.
These are all symptoms of a panic attack. Other symptoms include feeling dizzy, having chills, and tingling in hands or fingers.
I believe that many athletes try to ignore these indicators until they become too severe. However, don’t wait until the slightest of episodes occur. Seek assistance soon as possible.
PTSD in Athletes
A very talented and gifted young man and his family came into my office because he was held gun point and robbed. Since that time he has been having vivid flashbacks, nightmares, irritable mood, and unwanted thoughts about the event.
This young man is also a standout football player for his high school team. Does this describe a situation you may been through? Are you having nightmares and vivid flashbacks after encountering a horrifying ordeal? If so, you may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Victims of sexual Assault, witnessing and/or being involved in a natural disaster, participation in combat, or any terrifying event that is difficult to recover from can lead to PTSD.
Therapy is a key component to assist with managing these symptoms. If severe enough, medications may also be prescribed to help reduce the distress.
Trauma Therapy for Athletes
Regardless, if you are suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self-injurious behaviors, or PTSD you must understand that these disorder have one thing common…they all diminish your ability to perform.
In many cases these disorders are triggered by an activating event and/or situation that leads to mental breakdown. As an athlete you cannot afford mental breakdowns. Your greatest strength is not in your physical ability, but in your cognitive ability.
Before you perform great, you must think great. Therefore, learning to manage your thoughts regarding these disorders is paramount to being an elite athlete. Learning new concepts in mental health by a licensed professional can prove to bolster your level of play, help you to exceed your goals, as well as show you how to manage your mental ailment.
Trauma which is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing event can happen to anyone. Having a panic attack, being overwhelmed by depression, involving yourself in self-injurious behaviors, or being overcome with anxiety are all distressing situations.
Involvement in a counseling program that specializes in helping athletes can be greatly beneficial. The opposite is also true, the longer you procrastinate the worse these symptoms get.
Furthermore, if you are an athlete involved in and/or being linked to a scandal that is a distressing as well. It is during those times that an experienced therapist can assist with teaching you empowering coping skills that reduces those disturbing symptoms.
If you know of an athlete that is struggling with these issues encourage them to seek treatment now. If you are the athlete reading this and need assistance don’t wait until your performance weans book a session today.