mental health Archives - Athletes for Hope

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AFH Opinion

AFH Opinion

Stop Asian Hate, Support Asian Mental Health

In a year of fear, the mental health of AAPI athletes is more important than ever

by Rachel Chao, AFH Graduate Social Work & Public Health Intern

I am a truly terrible runner, but without fail, I continue to run. In the past, I have never hesitated to run through the streets wherever I am. I listen to my music, or my breath, and feel pride at each of the steps. Even at my slowest or after the worst run, I have always maintained a love to get out and go. 

But in the last year, my runs have been tinted with anxiety. I, and many other Asian-Americans, have felt an increased sense of fear. In response to racist rhetoric and fear-mongering, Asian and Pacific Islanders in America have been blamed for COVID-19 and targeted in attacks throughout the country. For us, it felt like every day on the news brought a new devastating and heartbreaking report: physical assaults on elders in Chinatowns across the country, online harassment with racial slurs, verbal abuse yelled at AAPIs on the street. It brought a collective grief and fear to a community. My friends, family, and I would check in with each other: have you already bought pepper spray? Are you walking with someone else so you’re not alone? Before the new Lunar Year in February, I wrote my grandfather an email. Please, I said, be safe. Please look out. He emailed me back saying that he would, and I shouldn’t worry too much over him. He told me that the Year of the Tiger would be good luck. 

Rachel and her dad running across the finish line of a running race.
Rachel and her dad cross the finish line of Run for the Water in Austin, TX

It feels fitting that this May will be both National Mental Health Awareness Month, and Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Research published in 2020 found that AAPI and mixed race athletes have higher risk of depression and suicidality than their white counterparts. Evidence also shows that AAPIs also have the lowest rate of seeking out support for mental health challenges when they need it, when compared to other racial/ethnic minorities. Additionally, we face a unique risk because of deeply-held cultural stigmas. Many Asian and Pacific Island cultures have a stigma against mental health concerns, seeing mental health challenges as trivial or dealt with through personal responsibility, which further isolates those who are suffering. 

In the last two years, these vulnerabilities have been paired with the rise in racist attacks. AAPI individuals have felt a rise of true fear and even violence – and athletes have been no exception to this. Sunisa Lee, Olympic gymnast, was pepper sprayed and yelled at with racist slurs while standing next to her car. Golfer and USA olympian Danielle Kang shared her experience of being told to go back to China (she’s Korean-American). Chloe Kim was subjected to online abuse with threats and slurs, and shared how her mental health detrimentally suffered. At all levels, Asian-American athletes have been at an increased risk for anxiety, hopelessness, and depression.

I cannot say if the Year of the Tiger has brought us the luck, prosperity, and protection that we collectively need. I cannot pretend that I don’t worry for Asian-Americans, especially elders like my grandfather. Our community is hurting, constantly between grief and anxiety. We deserve safety. We belong here. 

I laced up my sneakers today. I texted my dad, as is my habit now, that I would be going to run around my neighborhood. Be safe, he texted back. I felt the melancholy of fear for the first six blocks, then stopped at a light by a young Chinese-American family, with a 3 year old girl. She shyly smiled and waved at me. I waved back. 

The rest of my run, I thought of her and felt a ray of hope in my chest. I wanted the Year of the Tiger to be when the world became a little kinder.

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 info@nami.org.

AAPI Athlete Mental Health Fact Sheet & Resource Guide

Check out this infographic authored and compiled by Rachel Chao. Share it on social media or use our social media graphics to make your own post!

AFH News

Kickoff Week: Celebrating the Whole Being Athlete

by Suzanne Potts, LMSW, MPH

So much of the world is in turmoil right now, from war in Ukraine, dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, continued racial and social injustices, and more. The sports world is evolving and growing, with pending pay disputes, gender equality discussions and battles over greater visibility for female athletes. It seems no one is escaping the stress of work, family or personal trauma and more athletes are addressing the important topic of mental health. 

The Whole Being Athlete Program (WBAP) was established last year to uplift and elevate athlete voices to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.The vision of the AFH’s Whole Being Athlete Program (WBAP) is to build a powerful mental health community that empowers athletes to share their stories to raise awareness, access, and acceptability of mental health resources, with a focus on underserved populations. We believe everyone has the power to own their story and that by sharing experiences, we can empower and encourage others to seek help as needed. 

On Monday, April 18, 2022, Athletes for Hope is proud to kick off a week of celebration and announce our first Whole Being Athlete Ambassadors as examples of professional, Olympic, Paralympic and student-athletes who courageously join the growing number of mental health advocates. We look forward to announcing them on Tuesday, April 19th. These amazing leaders will collaborate with AFH along this journey to tell their stories, highlight resources, and encourage others to bravely step forward as advocates for better mental health.

In May, with support of other mental health partners and advocates, Athletes for Hope will share advocacy opportunities, service activations, personal stories and resources around athlete mental health. We will feature a wide range of mental health organizations, along with elevating athlete voices and evidence-based data about why mental health is a growing concern for us all. Our hope is that by using our collective voices to speak openly and honestly, we can help reduce the stigmas around mental illness for all.

We encourage you to join us each week via our social media and engage in this crucial conversation that impacts us all. If you’d like to get involved with this work at Athletes for Hope, please let us know here.

If you or 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

info@nami.org.

Whole Being Athlete Series

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 info@nami.org.

Why Mental Health Matters

by Mariah Parsons, Notre Dame Rowing ’21

I am beyond grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and woefully aware of how many people have helped me become better versions of myself every day. That being said, it hasn’t been a smooth process. There were days or even several months where I had no desire to go to practice, to class, to lift, to that party, to that interview, to that meeting. I really started to struggle maintaining my mental health sophomore year. We were doing selection work for competition when I broke my rib. My injury, along with challenges in my personal life, was the perfect storm to destroy my mental health.

I became frustrated with my own body and its inability to function without pain let alone perform at the collegiate level. It drove me to an internal scrutiny that I had never felt. I tore myself apart from all angles and refused to ask for help, mostly out of my own stubbornness and independence. But, I also felt the unspoken pressure to be gritty, tough, and to ‘dig deep’ and push back through it all. That’s what we do when racing, so that mentality of getting after it bled into all areas of my life. There was no mental relief from myself or the fact that I felt useless to my team. I felt I had gone from being at my strongest to my weakest and all it took was a millisecond snap of a rib. My perception was that the rehab I was doing wasn’t as important as the intense hard work my teammates were doing. I felt cast aside and forgotten about even though I was still present in the erg room. I felt alone and invisible in a room full of my teammates.

Those days still resurface every now and then and to this day I still regret being so stubborn for so long and not reaching out to a professional sports psychologist earlier. But, if it wasn’t for my teammates, I don’t think I would have ever felt better. A few of my teammates who had gone through or were going through similar situations took me under their wing and showed me the hope I’d lost. If you or someone you know is struggling in a similar way, my best advice would be to rely on your support system and that it’s okay to rely on them heavily. I used to think asking for help was weak, shameful, and selfish, but I’ve since learned asking for help welcomes a deeper relationship. Because of my own journey with mental health and my constant struggle to open up I have challenged myself to start a platform, called Learn 2 Listen, for anyone to share their story in an effort to end the stigma of silencing our mental health stories. Through this process of forcing myself to write and talk about my own struggles I have been embraced by family, friends, and strangers in a way that was a huge relief to me.

With any type of performance-based task, such as athletics, we have this notion that showing vulnerability is a weakness. We see in movies the superhero struggles to have loved ones because that is a vulnerability that the enemy can exploit, it becomes a weakness to show emotion and struggle. In athletics, there’s this unspoken acceptance from coaches and teammates that if we aren’t mentally strong, we are not as good of an athlete, but this should not be the case. We’re taught to push the pain away, to dig deep, and perform even when every muscle fiber is screaming to stop and every brain cell is on exhaust and to shut the emotions out. When an athlete hits a personal record and overcomes this physical challenge, we admire this accomplishment, but the same outlook is not mirrored when it comes to mental health.

This is what I hope will change as society opens up about our vulnerabilities, because we all have them. I hope we commend each other for their bravery and perseverance to work on their mental health and happiness. I hope we admire each other when we finally get to where we want to be in our life. I hope we change the narrative of mental health and instead of viewing these challenges as weakness, we admire the person’s effort to do their best each and every day.

AFH Announces Mental Health Initiative: The Whole Being Athlete

Please be advised the following article contains mental health content that may be triggering to some.


This past year has been incredibly challenging for everyone’s mental health. A recent survey by the CDC found rates of self reported behavioral health symptoms to be double what they would have been pre-pandemic including: symptoms of anxiety or depression, having started or increased substance use, stress-related symptoms, and having serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days.  

Athletes have not been immune to experiencing mental health struggles during the pandemic as an NCAA Student Athlete Well-Being Survey recently explored. The Survey found that student-athletes reported elevated rates of mental exhaustion, anxiety, hopelessness and feelings of depression. These rates were even more elevated in student-athletes of color, women, those on the queer spectrum, those living alone and those reporting financial hardship. 

Recent studies highlight the way that mental health symptoms for elite athletes may even be heightened compared to those in the general population yet the unfortunate fact remains that the stigma of getting support for mental health is just as strong. AFH has also heard from countless athletes across all levels and sports who are struggling with their mental health or who want to take action and support others. For that reason, we are excited to open spaces for athletes to share about their own mental health journeys and link athletes to resources for support. Athletes for Hope’s initiative is a layered approach, rooted in advocacy and resource sharing, all amplified on social media in order to support the “Whole Being Athlete.”

In response to the challenges faced over the past year in particular, Athletes for Hope is thrilled to announce the launch of an ongoing Mental Health Initiative created to support athletes wherever they are in their athletic journey and beyond. Beginning today, we’re kicking things off to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the next 31 days AFH will be sharing engaging resources, compelling athlete stories and various ways to get involved in order to stop the stigma around mental health. Join us by tuning in, connecting and activating around mental health awareness and action.

AFH is grateful to help share the mental health stories of some brave athletes to inspire and support athletes on their own mental health journeys. Each week we will feature blogs, social media events and connections from professional, Olympic, Paralympic and student-athletes. We invite others to share their stories or participate in our events throughout the month and believe there is power in telling, sharing and owning our own stories.

Advocacy efforts in May will focus activations and service opportunities that feature and elevate the work of AFH’s mental health partners. AFH will host weekly discussions on Instagram Live with mental health partners that will be focused on how to advocate for mental health. These partners include:

  • The Hidden Opponent
  • Alliance of Social Workers in Sports (ASWIS) 
  • The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) Sports Psychologist, Dr. Jessica Bartley
  • Danielle Berman of Tackle What’s Next

AFH will also offer resources every Friday during May to help athletes feel good during these challenging times including: Live yoga classes, guided meditation, and mindfulness exercises. Our “Feel Good Friday” sessions will elevate the positive examples of staying active and taking time for self care.

AFH is excited to contribute to the conversation around Mental Health by facilitating a discussion in front of 300 corporate executives about mental health as part of the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP), offering Trauma Informed Training with DocWayne internally and externally and hosting check-ins throughout the year for our AFH athlete and partner network.

It is AFH’s hope that through an ongoing and robust approach to athlete mental health well-being we can all work to end the stigma of mental illness and strengthen athletes who are struggling with their own. With Pride Month in June, trainings for AFH University (AFH U) student-athletes around disaster preparedness, 9/11 Day of Service and World Mental Health Day in October, AFH will have year-round opportunities to not only shine a light on mental health but also take an intersectional approach to ending this stigma and advocating for better mental health resources for athletes at all levels. We aim to uplift the Whole Being Athlete.

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 info@nami.org.

World Mental Health Day and Athletes

Today, October 10, 2020, is World Mental Health Day, and organizations around the world are sharing resources and focusing a much-needed spotlight on mental health. The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused a public health and mental health crisis that will continue to have far-reaching impacts for decades to come. Recent research shows that 53% of American’s reported feeling that their mental health has been impacted as a result of the pandemic due to “stress and worry.”

Today on our AFH social media feeds, we’ll be featuring stories of athletes, organizations, and resources to recognize and empower other athletes to join in the global mental health discussion. We hope that more athletes will come forward with courage and support others who may be silently struggling. We plan to elevate the work of incredible organizations working in this space and actively share resources for those in need.

We will continue to advocate for issues that impact athletes from across the globe and include athlete voices in the critical discussion. We invite you to read our OpEd on Athlete Resilience in Mental Health published in July 2020 and share it with those you know who may need to hear they are not alone.

Time to Re-envision Resilience with Elite Athletes Leading the Way

The 400-year sickness of racism continues to kill Black Americans, while a newer plague, COVID-19, has brought over 100,000 US deaths. That terrible loss of life does not fully encompass the current crisis, where traumatic grief, outrage, anger, and fear are themselves epidemic. The searing stress of unchecked racism burns like a national fever. Economic disruption, social distancing and sheltering at home add to the burden of coping. Mental health and domestic violence hotlines report large increases in calls for help. Alcohol and gun sales are up over 50%. While many people with mental health challenges suffer alone and in silence, others act out their emotional struggles, visiting their suffering on partners, family members, and in communities.

Living through this crisis has shown us how much our mental health and resilience depend on access to key psychological, social, and economic resources. In the case of athletes, critical coping resources like training facilities, workout opportunities, and team contacts are largely inaccessible. Opportunities to compete are mostly absent. Some colleges are cutting sport programs, and schedules at every level remain uncertain. Constrained from fully expressing their athletic identities and deprived of usual supports, athletes are facing significant mental health vulnerabilities.

Research suggests that, broadly speaking, elite athletes are no less vulnerable to mental health problems than the general population. A 2019 IOC review documented significant rates of depression, anxiety, sleep problems, disordered eating, and substance abuse among top athletes. A new NCAA study found a 150-250% increase in college athlete reports of mental health problems over comparable pre-COVID surveys, with athletes of color showing the highest level of concern. The current crisis is hitting athletes hard precisely because of the pressure for them to appear emotionally invulnerable.

The myth of athlete invulnerability has long hidden the human side of our sports heroes. Male and female athletes have long been taught to push against and push away their emotional needs, keeping their personal struggles secret. Mental toughness has meant a single-minded drive through adversity and an imperative to never show weakness. The toxic mix of inflexible, self-reliant coping strategies and denial of emotional vulnerability, forecloses help-seeking and can lead to tragic outcomes such as suicide, self-harm, domestic violence, sexual assault, and addiction.

Athletes facing today’s doubly shadowed valley of racism and pandemic need new sources of resilience, as their familiar strategies of toughening up and tightening down are not sufficient. To thrive in this unique period of adversity, athletes must break with outmoded assumptions about athletic strength and weakness, and acknowledge, accept, and embrace emotional vulnerability as an essential step toward mobilizing resilience. Today’s athletes have a unique opportunity to demonstrate what true courage looks like. They can embody emotionally healthy resilience, modeling the best of what we reach for, as competitors and as human beings.

Our hearts lift when we see the US Women’s Soccer team win the World Cup, marvel at the artistry of Michael Jordan, or watch Michael Phelps win 28 Olympic medals. But in the shadow of the triumphant champion athlete lies an impoverished image of healthy emotional life. Seeing athletic heroes as carefree entertainment icons, rather than as people who feel and fail, suffer and struggle, ill serves the human beings who give themselves over to the rigors of training and the demands of competitive excellence. The myth of athlete invulnerability leaves us with unhealthy role models and perpetuates the misconception that embracing vulnerability is a sign of weakness.

Fortunately, new images of athletic strength are emerging as courageous champions Hope Solo, Brandon Marshall, Kevin Love, Chamique Holdsclaw, Daniel Carcillo, Serena Williams, and others break the silence on emotional pain, acknowledge their vulnerabilities, and move beyond unhealthy, hyper-masculine models of mental toughness. They show us what it looks like to experience depression, anxiety, anger, fear, or shame, and then rise, moving forward with determination and dignity, undeterred by the old idea that vulnerability means weakness. These courageous leaders have shown us the way to humanizing heroes and normalizing vulnerability.

Busting free the myth of invulnerability liberates athletes from soul-crushing expectations. Courageously vulnerable athletes model a more balanced, humane, accepting, and affirming athletic identity. An emotionally healthy athletic culture acknowledges mental suffering as a part of human experience, endorses reaching out for support, rewards enlisting help when needed, and celebrates excellence achieved without the price of emotional and physical harm to self or to others.

Courageously vulnerable athletes elevate a new image of resilience, reducing stigma around emotional challenges and honoring strength in reaching out to supports. By embracing vulnerability and still rising, resilient athlete role models lead us along the path toward ending forever the silent suffering and harmful acting out that too many athletes, too many family members, too many fans, and too many communities have endured.

 

by

Jim Helling, LICSW, CMPC
Alliance of Social Workers in Sports

Suzanne Potts, LMSW, MPH
Athletes for Hope