athlete mental health Archives - Athletes for Hope

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AFH Staff Opinion

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. 

Athlete Mental Health Advocacy Day

We are planning an Athlete Mental Health Day at the Capitol in Washington, DC focusing on athlete mental health. 

The event is free and open to all ages and genders. Please let us know if you have any accommodations needed to attend this event.

Mental Health Athlete Spotlight

Injuries, Recovery & Mental Health

By Mattis Koch

Mattis Koch is a current student at Missouri State University, and former collegiate soccer player. Mattis is originally from Germany, and has played internationally with FC Union Berlin Youth Club.

And there I was laying on the pitch with that weird numbness in my right leg. I knew exactly what happened because I had this feeling before: I tore my ACL. Again. The second time this year. I didn’t know what to think or what to feel anymore. 9 months I had been working 4 to 5 hours a day with athletic trainers, doctors, and coaches with the goal in mind to play soccer again. I missed this feeling of leaving my heart out on the pitch, competing, winning, losing, trash-talking, and just everything soccer is about. 9 long months of pain, sweat, and tears just to have those feelings back and in the second session with my new team, I tore my ACL again.

I came from an elite youth academy in Germany to a top 10 D1 soccer program to get injured on the second day of practice. 6,000 miles away from my family and friends, laying on the turf feeling like this moment would never end. My knee didn’t even hurt, I was too devastated to feel anything.  Why does this happen to me? Why again? What do I do now? Can I ever play again? The following months after my second ACL reconstruction surgery I did not have the fire in me that I had during my first rehab. I was anxious to play again. What if I tear it a third or a fourth time?  I was supposed to go pro, earn the big bucks, win titles, be famous and not looking down on my crutches while desperately trying to walk again.

I wish this was the amazing story of how I still found the motivation to return to play soccer, win the NCAA championship, and get drafted to the MLS, but it’s not. This is the story on how to overcome and deal with mental health issues during a career-ending injury and how to deal with the fact that a lifelong dream can be taken from you in a short period of time. I felt this certain emptiness inside me and didn’t know how to fill it. I felt like a failure, and I felt alone. All my friends are out there signing contracts and winning titles while I’m just trying to deal with the fact that I will never do any of those things again.

This is the story on how to overcome and deal with mental health issues during a career-ending injury and how to deal with the fact that a lifelong dream can be taken from you in a short period of time.

Mattis Koch

The stigma associated with mental health for athletes makes it almost impossible to openly talk about feelings to teammates and coaches. It is considered a sign of weakness; and I was too proud to tell others how bad I was struggling. Psychology has a big impact on recovery from severe injuries and dealing with mental health issues often results in worse rehabilitation outcomes. Although it is not well researched, tools like positive self-talk, goal setting and healing imagery can aid the athlete in recovering from injury. Injuries are part of every sport, but the mental aspect is often overseen by many. As an athlete you are just supposed to “deal with it”. If you feel like the injury hurts your brain more than the affected body part, don’t be afraid to seek help. It will benefit you during the time in rehab, and later in life, whether you continue your athletic career or not.

If you feel like the injury hurts your brain more than the affected body part, don’t be afraid to seek help.

Mattis Koch

It’s okay to struggle and feel lonely, especially during injuries. Don’t be afraid to reach out to psychologists, teammates, coaches, or family about your mental health. It is not a sign of weakness; it shows how strong you are and is the first part of the healing process. You can only be helped if people are aware of what you are going through.

The Whole Being Athlete Series is a platform for athletes to share their stories about their own mental health journey. 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 Athlete-specific mental health resources can be found here.