World Mental Health Day – You are Never Alone

By Nick Salen, USA Field Hockey's Senior Public Relations & Communications Coordinator | Oct. 10, 2019, 11:25 a.m. (ET)

Today, October 10, is recognized as World Mental Health Day, dedicated to raising awareness and the mobilization of supporting mental health. Nowadays, mental health is a much more common topic of discussion as the stigma slowly erodes. While progress is being made, it is still a sensitive subject as millions around the United States experience some form of a mental health disorder. In fact, 1 in 5 adults and 1 in every 6 youth ages 6 to 17 will experience a mental health challenge each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and athletes are no exception.

Sometimes playing sports is the “escape” a student-athlete needs to get away from a mindset temporarily. If that trend of escaping continues for too long, one never learns how to cope with the added stress and can lead to a deeper issue. According to a study by Dr. Angela D. Pellant, MD, an increase in performance overload can cause a high school athlete to a decrease in performance and mood, making recovery time longer as stress accumulates. As described by Athletes For Hope, about 33 percent of college athletes experience “significant symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Among that group, 30 percent seek help.”

As the World Health Organization describes, “mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.” Just like the body with rigorous conditioning and a balanced diet, the mind is just as important to maintain in order to be healthy. In contrast, everybody has a limit to their well-being, but understanding the conversation is key. Here are a few ways to get started.

Create a safe space for check-ins, support and resource sharing
Getting into the habit of putting words to difficult feelings and experiences in a nonjudgmental space fosters open communication and overall wellness. For example, make time at the beginning or end of practices or games to do quick wellness check-ins. Ask questions such as “how are you going to take care of yourself before the end of the night?,” “who are you relying on to support your wellness this week?” or “what can the team do to support where you are right now?.” From these conversations, individuals will be able to express their needs and receive feedback and referrals to other resources to maintain or improve their own wellness.

Practice group self-care
Integrating focused self-care activities as a regular part of training can help athletes develop and practice healthy coping skills. Doing group meditation, laughter yoga, breathing exercises or other non-sport related physical activities can engage the body and mind in a different way preventing burnout and promoting balance.

Share messages of hope and understanding
Encourage teammates to share their successes with one another and search for other platforms to celebrate wellness and share personal stories. Look for ways to partner up individuals who are struggling with peers that can relate to their challenges. Creating an environment of emotional vulnerability strengthens teams and communities in unbelievable ways.

Recruit and partner with other local organizations to promote advocacy and action
Engage the discussion of mental wellness in your local communities by asking for support and sponsorship in local charity events or legislative issues that are focused on improving mental health care or promoting awareness. Those that live with mental health challenges are not strangers. Everyone knows someone who is dealing with something, even if they are unaware. It is everyone’s responsibility to take action to fight stigma and break down barriers to accessing mental health care and resources.

You are not alone
Struggling with mental health is more common than one would think. It can come and go in the blink of an eye and happen to the most determined student-athletes. Regardless, no one has to fight alone. In addition to high schools and collegiate institutions, there are a number of resources available to student-athletes or anyone struggling with mental health, including Mental Health America, NAMI and NCAA Sport Science Institute. Remember, you are your first priority. No one should suffer in silence in the fight to be stigma-free.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call (800) 273-TALK (8255) toll-free to speak with a trained crisis counselor, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also use the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741-741 to receive free support via text message from a trained crisis counselor 24/7.