Mental health issues, whether in the form of personality disorders, depression, or other illnesses, are stigmatized in much of the sports world. This can be explained through a variety of reasons, such as the masculinity value of sport, violent contact in many sports, or due to the overall stigma of mental health in society at large. Adding to the stigma is the fact that mental health issues are often more difficult to diagnose than physical health problems – there is not apparent broken body part, no bruise to see, etc. When these problems are harder to diagnose, they may seem to be less prevalent than they truly are. The stigmatization of mental health in sports should be seen as an problem, just as the prevalence of concussions without recognition of their true harm was seen as a problem. Here are two articles highlighting the issue: Brenden McLean writes on how the stigma is still an opponent here, and Chris Curry writes about a few of the many affects of the stigma here.
The mental health issues have led to many athletes suffering from depression during their career as well as into their retirement. Junior Seau’s unfortunate suicide was most likely the result of depression, and it could be argued that if there was less of a stigma on mental illness and injuries that this as well as other mental illness related deaths could have been prevented, or at least lessened. Sports leagues and organizations would do well to explicitly address this issue, so that the consequences of mental illness can be helped, rather than ignored. Ken Reed writes here how mental health programs are the next step in the care for athletes and sports participants. Following his and others’ advice, it is important to ask ourselves questions regarding the issue of mental health in sports.
A few questions which may be important to ask are:
How might the stigma be best addressed?
What would a mental health program look like in a professional sports league? In collegiate athletics?
What is the biggest resistor to mental health being confronted?
Who is at risk if mental health continues to be stigmatized and ignored?
What can athletes, coaches, managers, and others is sports do to fight this stigmatization?