AFH Staff Opinion - Athletes for Hope

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AFH Staff Opinion

Athlete Mental Health with NewsNation

By: Suzanne Potts LMSW, MPH

Athletes for Hope Chief Wellbeing Officer, Suzanne Potts LMSW, MPH, joined NewsNation live to discuss athlete mental health in the wake of Simone Biles’s return to sport. NewsNation, a Nexstar Media Group, is the fastest-growing national cable news network reaching 70 million television households across the United States. To watch the full segment, please click here.

On Friday morning, I had the opportunity to speak with the NewsNation journalist, Marni Hughes, to discuss the recent return to sport by Simone Biles after a much-needed mental health break. I was thrilled to be invited on behalf of Athletes for Hope to speak about athlete mental health and advocate for the millions of athletes who may be struggling.

photo of NewsNation anchor Manri Hughes with AFH Chief Wellbeing Officer Suzanne Potts during the live news segment "Examining Mental Health Among Top Athletes"

While the segment only lasted 4 minutes, I had so much more to share about this crucial topic.

If I’d had more time, I would have shared our why:

  • Mental health challenges impact athletes of all levels. Approximately 35% of elite athletes and 33% of collegiate athletes experience mental health disruptions.
  • Athletes face a unique stigma and challenge in seeking help. Out of the 33% of collegiate athletes that experience mental illness, only 10% go on to seek and receive support.
  • Athletes are incredibly vulnerable to developing additional disorders. Female athletes are at a higher risk for eating disorders, and male athletes are at a higher risk for substance abuse.
  • In 2022, there were 5 NCAA student-athletes who died by suicide. There are too many losses in this space. I’d mention Tyler, Arlana, Sarah, Morgan, and Katie, to name a few incredible student-athletes who are missed deeply by their families, friends, and teammates. Their lives continue to have an impact on so many as we learn about their stories.
photo of AFH Chief Wellbeing Officer Suzanne Potts and Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles during the live news segment "Examining Mental Health Among Top Athletes"

If I had more time, I’d share why I think more athletes should speak out about their mental health.

At Athletes for Hope, we believe athletes help model positive self-care, they normalize seeking help, and create space for others to learn about mental health. They are fierce competitors, role models in communities, and people who struggle with their mental health just like everyone else. However, while data suggest that athletes have higher rates of mental illness than the general public yet there is no systemic process or one clear entity responsible for athletes at all levels to access and receive mental health support.

photo of AFH Chief Wellbeing Officer Suzanne Potts and WNBA player Britney Griner during the live news segment "Examining Mental Health Among Top Athletes"

I would definitely want to share solutions to address athlete mental health. For example, solutions could include:

  • Helping reduce the stigma by talking about their mental health journey
  • Establishing team mental health check in’s
  • Providing training for athletes, coaches, and trainers to spot and identify athletes struggling with their mental health
  • Establishing a National Athlete Mental Health Bill of Rights, which could include topics such as:
    • Maintaining a healthy body and body image
    • Access to services that are equitable and representative 
    • Support through the transition out of sport
    • Timely referrals
    • Training and education about athlete mental health for athletes, coaches, and trainers that are trauma-informed
photo of AFH Chief Wellbeing Officer Suzanne Potts and Pro tennis player Naomi Osaka during the live news segment "Examining Mental Health Among Top Athletes"

We believe athlete voices should be heard when they speak out about their mental health experiences, and want to encourage more athletes to feel comfortable telling their stories. We have built a community of athletes, partners, and stakeholders to engage in this national discussion and encourage others to join us.

It’s no surprise that teams like the USWNT are working to raise awareness about athlete mental health. They have been trailblazers and advocates on and off the pitch for decades. Athletes like Simone Biles, Brittney Griner, Kevin Love, and so many others exhibit resilience, provide hope and empower others to share their stories. They confidently use their platforms for good, to help others who may be struggling with their mental health. Our Whole Being Athlete program was created to provide athletes at all levels to raise awareness, access, and acceptability of mental health resources for all athletes. For all of us at Athletes for Hope, we’ll be cheering for Biles, Griner, Oskaka, and the USWNT in their athletic and mental health journeys, and can’t wait to see them shine.