The Vulnerability of Sports Heroes

The Super Bowl has become such an important event in our society that it has taken on the stature of many national holidays and has become embedded in family traditions.

Traditional Super Bowl galas, parties, office pools, trips to venues, and dinners — where some people pay more attention to what they’re eating and socializing than the game itself, are just a few of the activities people may engage in for the event.

Sport, by its very nature, allows us to be critical, judgmental, admiring, and effusive in praise. We get to experience an entire spectrum of emotional responses from just one football game, tournament, or match.

Overall, we personalize athletes, and we perceive our teams and sports celebrities as being on a pedestal, and bringing us along for the ride.

We say ‘WE won’ or ‘WE were cheated.’

The American Psychiatric Association has noted the dangers of the assumption that athletes should be perceived as always having to be mentally healthy or the false notion that “being strong” means handling things on your own. Hoping to increase awareness and remove the stigma surrounding the mental health of athletes, the APA has put forth this official statement:

First, mental illness is as likely as common in athletes as in the general population.

Second, it is not a sign of weakness and should be taken as seriously as a physical injury.

I will add, based on clinical research, and my professional experience, that physical and head trauma can also create a set of mental health vulnerabilities that can linger much past the perceived injury after being “cleared.”

Third, getting help will most likely, improve, not damage an athlete’s self-confidence.

Lastly, the American Psychiatric Association asks people to acknowledge that sports subject a person to a unique set of challenges and circumstances that can make a person vulnerable to feelings of depression or anxiety.

One of the most significant things we can do when it comes to the mental health of athletes is to remove the stigmas associated with mental illness and enforce the message that help is available. Each person has a right to find the treatment that works for them. Friends, teammates, and family members can offer support by looking for warning signs, paying attention, noticing, and taking seriously signs that people are struggling.

Athletes should not be assumed or expected to be machines or entertainers, especially where their emotions are concerned. In addition to trainers, coaches, and physical therapists, they should be offered psychological support when necessary during their career as well as after retirement.

It’s fun to have heroes, and equally important to let them have feet of clay.

 

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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