athlete depression

Athletes Overcoming Mental Health Challenges

Category: Athlete Mental Health, Exercise
6 minute read.

In recent years, a wave of athletes has courageously come forward to share their battles with mental health issues. These stories, which once might have been buried under the pressure of perfection and performance, are now being told with honesty and vulnerability. Icons like Simone Biles and Michael Phelps have openly discussed their struggles with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. 

As we look forward to the upcoming 2024 Olympics in Paris, their journeys offer hope and inspiration, proving that with the right support and treatment, it is possible to overcome mental health challenges and compete at the highest levels of sport.  

The Courage to Speak Out 

Simone Biles: One of the most decorated gymnasts in history, Simone Biles, stunned the world during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics when she withdrew from several events to prioritize her mental health. Biles revealed she was suffering from “the twisties,” a mental block that affects gymnasts’ spatial awareness. Her decision sparked a global conversation about the importance of mental health in sports, showing that even the greatest athletes are not immune to mental health issues. As she prepares for Paris 2024, Biles’ journey is a testament to the power of seeking help and prioritizing well-being. 

Michael Phelps: The most decorated Olympian of all time, swimmer Michael Phelps has been open about his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. After the 2012 Olympics, Phelps found himself in a dark place, but through therapy and a support system, he was able to find his way back. Today, he is a vocal advocate for mental health, emphasizing the importance of seeking help. Phelps’ story underscores the message that with the right support, recovery is possible. 

Naomi Osaka: Tennis star Naomi Osaka brought attention to the mental health of athletes when she withdrew from the French Open in 2021, citing struggles with depression and anxiety. Her transparency and subsequent advocacy have highlighted the pressures athletes face and the critical need for mental health support. 

Kevin Love: NBA player Kevin Love has shared his experiences with anxiety and depression, including a panic attack during a game. Love’s openness has encouraged many to speak about their own mental health issues, fostering a more supportive environment within professional sports. 

These stories are not just tales of triumph in sport but also in life. 

“I went through my own struggles. I realized that it’s okay to not be okay, and that seeking help is actually a sign of strength.” Michael Phelps 

Recognizing the Need for Mental Health Support 

Mental health issues can manifest in various ways, and recognizing the signs is the first step toward seeking help. Some common indicators include: 

  • Persistent sadness or depression: Feeling sad or down for extended periods, losing interest in activities once enjoyed. 
  • Anxiety and panic attacks: Experiencing excessive worry, nervousness, or sudden, overwhelming fear. 
  • Mood swings: Fluctuating between extreme highs and lows, which may indicate bipolar disorder. 
  • Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors: Signs of OCD include recurring, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors. 
  • Self-harm: Engaging in behaviors that cause self-injury as a way to cope with emotional pain. 
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns: Significant weight loss or gain, insomnia, or excessive sleeping. 
  • Withdrawal from social interactions: Avoiding friends, family, or social activities. 
  • Substance abuse: Using drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health issues. 
Mental Health Challenges

Levels of Care in Mental Health Treatment 

Recognizing the need for mental health support is just the first step. Understanding the different levels of care available can help individuals find the appropriate treatment: 

  • Residential Inpatient Treatment: This is the highest level of care, where individuals stay at a treatment facility 24/7. It provides intensive, structured care, including medical supervision, therapy, and support in a safe, controlled environment. 
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP): PHP is a step down from inpatient care. Individuals attend a full-day program, five days a week, but return home in the evenings. It offers intensive therapeutic support and medical monitoring. 
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP): IOPs provide a more flexible treatment option, where individuals attend their treatment program a few times a week while maintaining their daily routines. It allows for continued support and care while integrating into everyday life. 
  • Individual Therapy: This level of care involves regular appointments with therapists, counselors, or psychiatrists. It’s the least intensive and is often used as ongoing support after completing higher levels of care. 

Treatment Options for Mental Health 

Effective treatment for mental health issues often involves a combination of approaches tailored to the individual’s needs: 

  • Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and other forms of talk therapy can help individuals understand and manage their thoughts and behaviors. 
  • Medication: Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers can be prescribed to manage symptoms. 
  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and sufficient sleep can significantly impact mental health. 
  • Support Groups: Connecting with others who are experiencing similar issues can provide comfort and understanding. 
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises can reduce stress and improve mental well-being. 
  • Art and Music Therapy: Creative therapies can help individuals express emotions and process their experiences in non-verbal ways. 
  • Holistic Approaches: Techniques such as acupuncture, massage, and nutritional counseling can complement traditional treatments. 

Overcoming the Stigma 

The stories of athletes like Simone Biles and Michael Phelps are crucial in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health. Their willingness to speak openly has paved the way for greater acceptance and understanding. It’s important to recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

“I hope that my openness can help others who are going through similar struggles to feel less alone and to seek the support they need.” Naomi Osaka 

A Trusted Resource for Mental Wellness 

For those struggling with mental health issues, finding the right support is essential. Centered Health, along with its family of treatment centers—Los Angeles Outpatient Center and The Meadowglade for adults, and Beachside Teen Treatment Center and Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center for teens—offers comprehensive, evidence-based treatment programs tailored to individual needs. With a team of experienced, dedicated professionals, Centered Health’s treatment centers provide a safe, compassionate environment where individuals can receive the care they need to heal and thrive. 

As we look forward to the Paris Olympics, the stories of professional athletes overcoming mental health challenges remind us that it is possible to rise above the darkness. By recognizing the signs, seeking appropriate treatment, and breaking the stigma, individuals can achieve mental wellness and reach their full potential. Centered Health stands ready to support those on their journey to mental health, providing the trusted care needed to get back on track and live fulfilling lives. 

In the words of Simone Biles, “It’s okay not to be okay.” Acknowledging our struggles and seeking help is the first step towards a brighter, healthier future. Let these inspiring athletes’ journeys serve as a beacon of hope for anyone facing mental health challenges.