Every day, people all around the world tune into sports channels to watch elite athletes and the skills they possess. Whether it’s football, soccer or swimming, all athletes have one thing in common: each of them are prone to mental health issues that they struggle with in secret. Famous or not, with pressures to perform in games, added time commitment and painful injuries, the mental health of athletes should be made a top priority as the challenges they must overcome are severely overlooked.

Athletes wrestle with the same complex issues as everyone else, and with the added pressure of their career, they arguably struggle even more. Athletes’ stress becomes magnified as the stakes for high-level competition rise, forcing them to feel an overwhelming amount of pressure to play well. Oftentimes, athletes put themselves into a perfectionist mindset. When they don’t play well, it leaves them unsatisfied and disappointed in their performance. In 2016,  an assessment taken by the American College Health Association revealed that 21 percent of male athletes and 27 percent of female athletes experience depression, and over 32 percent of female athletes experience anxiety. Eventually, all of that pressure builds up, causing extreme panic attacks that can be hard to recover from. If these feelings aren’t dealt with, it damages their emotional well-being and impacts their overall performance. Being placed under large amounts of pressure serves as a severe threat that will only reach new heights if the health of athletes is not handled with care. 

Athletes are constantly putting their bodies through pain and stress, and when they eventually get injured, their mental and physical well-being can begin to plummet. The amount of pain and time spent in the hospital  worsens their mental health and largely contributes to depression, mood changes and PTSD. When they face an injury where they have reduced mobility and are unable to physically socialize,  it’s no surprise that athletes can feel lonely and depressed because their entire life has been turned upside down. According to Beyond Blue, three months after a traumatic injury, one in three people will experience major depression. When athletes face a negative change in their mental health, it increases their depression, as they may never fully recover from the trauma their mind and body has dealt with. When something as life changing as a serious injury affects them physically, it’s ultimately going to affect them mentally. Finding useful ways to help an athlete suffering from poor mental health is critical to the recovery of a struggling athlete. 

Including the confinement from injuries, athletes still face limited time to enjoy and balance a normal social life. Playing a sport is a big time commitment that requires long hours of practice and traveling. Because of that dedication, most athletes miss out on being a normal person. They are unable to hang out with their friends on a regular basis, and athletes who are still students can ultimately struggle to keep up with their school work. When players overschedule their personal and athletic life, it takes a serious mental toll on their health and results in high stress and anxiety. For example, spending long hours at practice and games can cut down their sleep, relaxation and self-care. For the benefit of an athlete’s mental health, it’s crucial that they prioritize sports in comparison to other activities and school work. 

Some may argue that while being an athlete takes a lot of dedication, it is ultimately an optional path that can benefit the work ethic, attitude and exercise of an athlete. If anything, however, this extreme dedication can push athletes over their limit, resulting in harmful emotions and thoughts. Yes, pressure can push athletes to work harder, but when that pressure increases to an alarming amount, it becomes too much to handle and causes unnecessary stress and anxiety. Most of the time when athletes get hurt, no one ever questions the amount of time it takes them to recover. The same notion should be considered when it comes to their mental health, as an athlete’s physical well-being is just as important as their mental well-being. Being an athlete is supposed to be fun, but when those athletes feel as if they can’t speak up about their struggles, it’s not worth all the pain it causes. 

Mental health issues aren’t uncommon within athletes, and most of the time, many of their struggles are overlooked. More often than not, they battle with the same complex struggles as everyone else while having more weight placed upon their backs. Instead of feeling like they have to push through their pain, it should be known that it’s okay for athletes to take a step back and prioritize their mental and physical health. By celebrating more mental awareness and breaking the silence, athletes should feel more comfortable to confide in others when they are struggling. Even the most elite athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles are not immune to the dangers mental health presents. Athletes are so much more than their achievements, and it’s okay to not be okay.