The Keys to Creating a Mental Health Framework for Elite Athletes
General mental health practice is well studied within academia, but the study of the specifics of caring for elite athletes is just in its infancy.
Mental health will likely become something everyone must worry about at some point in their lives, but for athletes, there are different pressures and stresses that must be specifically addressed.
To start, the modern athlete in America garners a significant amount of media attention, more than most other professions. Although this provides some big-money deals, it also means that more pressure is laid upon their shoulders. There is already enough pressure within sports to push some over the edge, but with millions of fans, TV pundits, and other incoming criticism, the media can make a difficult situation near impossible.
Additionally, for some athletes, it is not only their own success being determined on the field, but their whole family’s. For some athletes that come from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, they live with the pressure that if they make it and earn a good salary, they can lift their entire family out of poverty. This adds yet another layer of palpable stress on already burdened athletes.
In one study, child and sports psychologists from Australia identified mental healthcare methods that can be used to address the outer issues taxing athletes' minds. For these psychologists, it all begins with mental health education which can build a foundation for understanding in young children.
Education should continue through adulthood and then shift into more individually focused development programs. These programs work to help athletes identify who they really are, separate from their athletic careers. For many athletes, it is hard to understand who they are without their athletic lives. Developing this increased sense of self can help athletes gain more confidence apart from their sport.
Additionally, some systems must be in place to help athletes and those around them develop emotional and mental literacy. This includes helping people identify behaviors that may be indicative of depression or anxiety, as well as learning how to speak respectfully and accurately concerning emotions and ideas.
For elite athletes, mental health training and education must come full circle, and not leave any aspect of their lives out of the picture. In the past it was more common to have a base level of training, but this left so many athletes without the tools necessary to address their issues. It is important to have a holistic approach to wellness, which includes the mind, body, and life, and addresses the extenuating circumstances that elite athletes must deal with on a daily basis.