Mental health of athletes has been a topic of discussion and interest within the sport, especially with many elite players speaking about and disclosing the psychological challenges that are affecting them and their performance. Athletes are a physically fit group of people who push their bodies to their limit on a daily basis. But this comes at a mental cost. In spite of the fact that exercise and physical activity have been shown to protect against depressive symptoms, athletes of all genders still struggle with mental health symptoms. While women athletes who are in a minority have been focused more with respect to their special emotional needs and challenges, men have continually been under-researched in the mental health space. This article aims to shed light on the unique relationship between men beyond just athletes, mental health issues faced by male coaches and administrators, risk factors for mental health symptoms in males associated with sports, and how those symptoms manifest and impact athletic performance.
Men's mental health is often ignored with no focus on athletes’ fathers, male coaches, and administrators Mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Men’s mental health is unique because, despite its prevalence, resources, support, and research are still inadequate.
It has been established that suicide rates in men are higher than in women. Yet, despite this clear indication that men do indeed suffer from mental health issues, it’s not an issue that’s been prioritized by researchers or the public until recently. A major reason for this is the stigma around men directly addressing their mental health which is still prevalent. Responses like “Suck it up and figure it out yourself” perpetuate silent societal expectations that hinder accepting and asking for help.” There’s still hesitation among men to admit they may be going through mental health problems. While male athletes are now working with sport psychologists and working towards handling negative thoughts and emotions, coaches and administrators are still far off from availing these services. This is taking a huge toll on their professional and personal relationships as well as their productivity. Excessive stress leading to maladaptive coping strategies like violence, anger bouts, and substance abuse are common consequences of unaddressed mental health challenges. On this mental health month dedicated especially to men, we feel the need to underscore the fact that mental well-being can be addressed with increased awareness and effective access to mental health services. By educating, normalizing, and destigmatizing mental health concerns we can surely reduce the damage. The pressures of sport and performance leading to stress, anxiety, and many times depression can be reduced, and positive mental health can be regained by following simple activities that help maintain optimism and mental well-being. 1. Be physically active: Staying active by exercising for yourself despite your busy schedule is necessary for maintaining positive and emotional well-being. 2. Maintain quality of sleep: Disturbed sleep is a result of affected emotional wellbeing. Managing stress and practicing meditation and relaxation can help improve sleep. Limit your social media use prior to hitting the bed for improved quality of sleep. Practicing mindfulness also helps manage negative emotions and leads to better sleep. 3. Ensure a healthy diet: Food and mood influence each other and by having regular nutritious meals with a good amount of fibre, greens, and proteins, gut health can be maintained well to support our psychological stability. 4. Help others: By practicing altruism and extending a helping hand to others, we can boost our esteem as well as experience a sense of responsibility towards a society that helps give meaning and purpose to one's life. Engaging in hobbies and intellectual conversations adds more fuel to the inner fire in us. 5. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people: Maintaining social connections with loved ones has an immense impact on our overall well-being. Support systems in tough times give can give you the courage to face challenges and give third eye perspectives towards betterment. 6. Practice self-love and compassion: The way we speak to ourselves is surprisingly quite harsh. Practicing self-love and compassion can help develop a positive self-image, improve self-perception and boost our self-esteem. Our confidence levels can be uplifted, leading to more productivity in personal and professional lives. By following simple rituals and routines that nurture the mind along with the body, we can lead a more fulfilling and productive life beyond our roles as an athlete, sports parent, coache, or administrator. Be aware, ask for help as it's OK to NOT BE OKAY… it's a phase that can pass by with the right kind of intervention.
About the author
Amruta Karkhanis Deshmukh is a former national champion cyclist, triathlete, and long-distance swimmer and now an experienced, qualified sports psychologist.
She is well placed to explain how fitness and sports professionals can develop in their client's and trainee's motivation, confidence, mental toughness, goal-setting, and visualization.