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Athletes, Mental Health & How AFH is Addressing the Stigma

Reflecting on our work in advance of World Mental Health Day Tuesday, October 10, 2023.

One in five adults experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. For athletes, the issue of mental health is even more prevalent with around 35% of elite athletes suffering from burnout, eating disorders, and/or anxiety and depression. On the collegiate side, data suggests out of the general student population experiencing mental health challenges, 30% of them seek help, whereas out of the student-athlete population, only 10% do.1  Furthermore, suicide is the third leading cause of death among athletes.2

Performance anxiety, relentless pressure, and the emotional turmoil that can follow a career-ending injury can significantly impact an athlete’s mental well-being. These facts underscore that mental health isn’t a trivial matter; rather, it stands as a crucial element affecting an athlete’s performance and overall wellness.

As we approach World Mental Health Day on October 10, Athletes for Hope (AFH) is underlining its dedication to emphasizing the importance of mental health in both athletics and society at large. Led by our Whole Being Athlete Program and our 22 Mental Health Ambassadors, our goal is to create and strengthen a network that inspires and activates a robust community to break down existing stigmas of mental health, in and out of sports. Since the inception of the program in 2021 and the addition of our Mental Health Champions Club in 2023, we have aimed to make a significant impact through various initiatives, always focused on changing the stigma around mental health by empowering athletes of all backgrounds to advocate for systemic change.


Education: We collaborate with organizations and experts in the field to provide athletes with training, resources and support. This ensures they have access to the tools necessary to address their mental health needs – and to support others – through our Mental Health Resource Hub.

Storytelling: We believe that sharing stories and opening up conversations about mental health is an enormous part of the work to break down the stigma. We feature athlete-written mental health stories and panel discussions, giving athletes a platform to share their stories, advocate for change, and find community with each other. 

Convening: AFH works to spread awareness in communities by hosting and supporting events nationwide, including the first Athlete Mental Health Advocacy Day at the U.S. Capitol this May and by holding monthly or quarterly committee meetings with our advocates, athletes, and key stakeholders.

Advocacy: Initiatives such as the Mental Health Champions Club and the Pledge to Reach Out are using the power of sports to bring wellness, kindness, and self-care tips to our community members. We work every single day to convene athletes and organizations that work every day to strengthen athlete mental health collectively.

AFH’s commitment to mental health in athletics is not just a matter of advocacy; it’s a matter of fundamental importance. As research shows, mental well-being significantly impacts athletics performance, and by extension, it touches the lives of millions who look up to these athletes. With an estimated 55% of kids in the U.S. participating in youth sports programs, there is a remarkable number of young people looking to elite athletes as role models in how they manage their careers, community, and mental health. It is critical that youth today have access to resources and support through their mental health journeys.

This World Mental Health Day, we invite you to join us in recognizing the profound significance of mental health in athletics and beyond. Together, we can create a world where mental health is prioritized, the stigma is eliminated, and support is readily available to all. Athletes for Hope stands strong in this mission, and we invite you to stand with us.

Putt For Passion

Athletes for Hope Putt for Passion Golf Tournament logo

Athletes for Hope’s first annual golf tournament is an afternoon to celebrate, recognize and appreciate the power of the athletic spirit in making the world a better place through community service and advocacy.
We invite you to join us in person to support our organization’s efforts to educate, inspire and connect athletes to underserved communities throughout the U.S. and beyond.

Mental Health Athlete Spotlight

Finding A Sense of Self Before Life After Hockey Begins

By Terra Lanteigne

Terra is a professional ice hockey player with the Boston region of the PWHPA as well as a Whole Being Athlete Ambassador. She attended the Rochester Institute of Technology where she pursued her degree while serving as goaltender and assistant captain for the school’s Division I hockey program. She is also a Mechanical Engineer.

My name is Terra Lanteigne, and I am a professional hockey player.

A year ago, I stepped away from sport for the first time and found myself in a battle with anxiety, depression and an identity crisis. Even though I have since returned to athletics, my experiences have taught me how to cope with my eventual (permanent) retirement, whenever that may be, and to be confident in my transition to life after sport. This is my story.

Terra in her hockey gear on the ice, looking around a hockey goal

I finally had the free time I had dreamed about but instead of filling it with friends, excitement, and adventures, it brought on a constant sense of anxiety.

Terra Lanteigne

Photo credit: Heather Pollock

Hockey has always been a major part of my life and my sense of self. I never missed a season since I started playing at 8 years old, and many of those years I played through both the winter and summer. I wanted to be the best, and I loved the thrill of chasing that next level of achievement. I always saw my path with hockey.

But by my 4th year of college, I was burnt out. Physically, from playing/training 6 days a week and fighting through injuries I knew needed attention, but also mentally. Behind the smiles, the captaincy, the stats and the awards, I was drained. I didn’t want to quit, but the losing seasons, grueling schedule, schoolwork, and lack of a break took its toll. With my NCAA eligibility coming to an end, but with several post-college playing options available, I made the decision to take my first year without organized hockey in 14 years.

My final season came and went, and for the first few weeks I was relieved. I got to spend more time with my friends than ever before, started planning trips, and taking some well-deserved rest. And then the pandemic hit.

Spring sports had their season canceled, campus closed for the semester, and my plans evaporated. Suddenly I had nothing in my schedule, and no discernible goals to work towards. I finally had the free time I had dreamed about but instead of filling it with friends, excitement, and adventures, it brought on a constant sense of anxiety.

A defender is in front of Terra, who is in goal during an ice hockey game

I told myself others had it worse than me, and I suffered in silence until I eventually opened up and decided to recognize the importance of my mental health.

Terra Lanteigne

Photo credit: Heather Pollock

I didn’t have a job lined up, and I was graduating soon. What was I doing wrong? Was it because I lacked something to set me apart? Really, what was unique about me other than the fact I played hockey? Who was I if not an athlete? Stress filled the gaps in my day that used to be dedicated to training, travel, competition, and physical recovery. I had hobbies, I was aware that life did not need to end with my playing career, but I couldn’t find anything that felt worthwhile or motivating. I grew frustrated with myself for not appreciating the time off, sad thinking about how lost I felt, and eventually sunk into a numbness that made getting out of bed difficult. I was depressed.

Some part of me knew I should talk to someone, but I convinced myself my internal battle wasn’t worthy of discussion or therapy. Between the athletes who lost their seasons, the students who were missing graduation, and everyone else on the planet who was struggling for various reasons, I didn’t think I deserved the right to complain or demand help for my problem. I told myself others had it worse than me, and I suffered in silence until I eventually opened up and decided to recognize the importance of my mental health.

I was never sure if my hockey career would continue past college, although that was always my goal, and the ease of my decision to step away from sport was proof that the way I was functioning, internalizing everything and putting my head second behind my body, was unsustainable and damaging. I see that now. I still have to check myself often and remind myself to take a breath, but maintaining a consistent dialogue with my support network has made me stronger than ever.

Terra wearing her hockey gear as she walks off the ice with the area behind her

I returned to hockey, accomplished my goal of becoming a professional hockey player, and intend to continue playing as long as I can, or until it stops making me happy.

Terra Lanteigne

Photo credit: Jess Rapfogel

Taking time away had the added benefit of rekindling my excitement and love for the game, and just like coming back from a physical injury I had a refreshed drive to compete. I returned to hockey, accomplished my goal of becoming a professional hockey player, and intend to continue playing as long as I can, or until it stops making me happy. I don’t have a golden answer or some secret to a flawlessly smooth transition out of competitive sport. What I do know, and what I hope anyone who reads this can walk away with, is that we are all part of a network of athletes, both retired and active who have been there. It is tough, but you’re not alone. As athletes, there is a whole community of people who we can talk to and lean on for support when our careers as players end for good.

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 info@nami.org. Athlete-specific mental health resources can be found here.

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.