Are you a rock?
Do you never feel emotion?
If you answered “no” to at least one of those questions, you’re a bonafide, flesh and blood humanoid with a working conscious and a pumping heart.
Now- imagine a world where everyone around you expects you to repress all of those emotions except for those that make you likeable. The only place you can express yourself is in the confines of your home, maybe not even in front of your friends or family.
That’s the thing with mental illnesses in athletes- people just assume that you’re fine because “depression and anxiety aren’t real illnesses,” and “athletes don’t cry.” Athletes themselves don’t believe depression and anxiety are real because of what they’ve been taught.
“Rub some dirt in it!”
“Ah, it’s not that bad.”
“Come on, get over it.”
Sure, you’ve got to be tough in sports. You prepare your body day in and day out- weights, conditioning, practice…they require all of your attention. But do we ever pay attention to our brains? Our mental health? Do those coaches/directors around and in the athletic world acknowledge that these are real problems for their athletes?
I’d like to think the answer would be a straight up, “yes!” but I have a feeling that I’d be wrong.
For some reason, there’s still a stigma around mental illnesses these days. The number of those affected has grown exponentially during the past two decades. But when you add those into an environment filled with tough skin and hard-headedness, an even bigger clash crops up.
We as a society are taught to ignore anything malicious and focus on “what makes us happy.” Great idea, right? Only pay attention to things that give you joy. I think that’s where we get sports, in a way, because they’re a route out of our own minds. We play sports because they’re fun, and when a coach, teammate…etc destroys your perception of the game you’ve grown to love by creating a wall in your head, dividing your outward emotion and your mental health, you get stuck.
Why can’t we talk about depression and anxiety in the locker-room or with coaches? Why do we have to feel embarrassed when someone mentions mental health?