Athletes are People Too...
With all the energy and excitement surrounding Super Bowl 53 this upcoming Sunday, this is a perfect opportunity to talk about a topic within sports culture most fans would rarely begin to consider first when they think of his or her favorite athlete: MENTAL HEALTH.
I recently came across a wonderful article written by Jasmyn Wimbish on http://www.fansided.com. In the article, Wimbish talks about a mental health initiative for NFL players that focuses on eliminating the veil of shame for players so they can talk openly and honestly about mental health concerns. Former San Diego Chargers quarterback, Ryan Leaf who is the chairman of the Focus Intensity Foundation, is advocating for NFL players to feel comfortable being proactive in taking a more well-rounded approach to wellness and fitness by having the conversation about mental health just as easily as players can talk about physical injury and other medical concerns.
Athletes should be able to check in about how they are feeling just as routinely as getting a physical for medical clearance to play. Professional athletes have a lot of support from medical and alternative health professionals to ensure they are capable of performing well on the field. What about psychological and emotional health? Is there any consideration for the stress, grief, conflict, and emotions of these elite athletes? I would like to know how athletes are coping when they aren't in uniform.
One aspect of being a professional, high performance athlete requires adjustment to a new environment that not only impacts the player, but instant fame and celebrity status impacts family members and loved ones who similarly must adapt and navigate through new social territories. This "status" can also open the doors to high-risk behaviors such as substance use, violence, and other maladaptive behaviors that function as ways for athletes to cope with the multifaceted stressors of being an elite athlete and human being.
My hope is to see a development of further initiatives and programs that focus on recognizing the person beyond the number jersey he or she wears. It all begins with awareness and I am so excited to see an increase in dialogue about mental health and professional sports.
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Amy Pope-Latham, LCSW is a board certified mental health professional in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.