The Whole Being Athlete Series is a platform for athletes to share their stories about their own mental health journey. Please be advised the following article contains mental health content that may be triggering to some. If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M-F 10am-8pm Eastern or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve had my own struggles with mental health, and feel it is a topic that is left untouched in many minority communities and the world of sports. Seeking the help of mental health professionals has made the difference in my personal and professional life as an athlete, and I hope to be an advocate for mental health in these spaces post retirement.
In 2012, I enlisted the help of a sports psychologist who happened to be sitting next to my mother at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR. After failing to make the team, he told my mother he’d watched me over the years and saw that my potential was far greater than the way I had been performing.
We began working together in the Fall, and quickly identified that much of my issue was in the way that I was speaking to myself. During our weekly calls, we would work on changing my negative thoughts to positive, more encouraging thoughts. I slowly began to see improvement in my performance on the track and even in my personal life.
The start of the pandemic would find me back in therapy, as I became a single mother, and I decided it was time to properly heal from the break up for myself and my son. This time, I made the conscious effort to find a black, female therapist. It was important to me to find someone that looked like me, and understood my experience as a black woman. The effort it took to find my therapist, and the experience of sitting across from her on a weekly basis, inspired me to enroll in a Clinical Mental Health graduate program. My personal experiences coupled with the growing mental health need and interest from minority communities pushed me to take that leap of faith. Upon completion of my degree, I will become counselor working in minority communities and with athletes.
Early in my studies, I learned that mental health can have a direct effect on athletic performance, while there is also limited literature on sports counseling itself. This was saddening but also exciting to learn that there is most certainly a gap that needs to be closed for marginalized and athletic communities. My mission as a mental health counselor is to remove the stigma associated with mental health, and help athletes to tap into their fullest potential through healing and mindfulness.
Mental health should be treated as part of our overall health, and we should be a continuous conversation. A month like Mental Health Awareness Month is important to spread the message, but we need to be continuing the conversation as far as we can in our communities and with our loved ones. I especially believe we as athletes stand to benefit both personally and athletically by dealing with issues that might be preventing us from performing our best. Seeking help from a mental health professional is a sign of strength and one taking their overall health seriously.
Natasha Hastings is an American track and field sprinter, running the 400-meter and 4×400 meter events. She is a two-time Olympian and two-time Goal medalist. She is a mother of a 21 month old boy, Liam.