February 9, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 33°F

Opinion

Editorial: Priority needs to be given to athletes’ mental health

For athletes, mental health is typically taboo. A coach will likely tell players, “Get your head in the game!”, but that is about the furthest extent of mental health acknowledgment besides “walk it off.” It’s not something that should be shared openly with your team because it shows weakness, at least, that’s the mentality of many professional sports organizations. Currently, Ithaca College is developing and expanding programs in the field of sports psychology to overcome both the stigmas and obstacles that come with maintaining the overall wellbeing of athletes.

In 2003, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) launched an initiative called the CDC HEADS UP Campaign, which over the past 20 years has reached over 20 million people and changed the way athletic organizations handle and treat concussions. Just like concussions, mental illnesses occur in the brain and it can be difficult to notice symptoms. But with proper training and outreach, discussions and action taken to treat mental health issues can become as normalized as the steps taken to recover from a concussion.

When someone gets a concussion, they are actually at greater risk of getting more concussions in the future. Training initiatives like HEADS UP emphasize knowing warning signs, susceptibility and prevention measures in order to reduce risk as much as possible. The same principle can be applied when talking about mental health struggles. Issues like stress, injury recovery, and psychiatric issues are conditions that can be persistent and long-term and are more likely to arise more than once upon the initial onset.

“It’s important to look at the long-term messages of those conversations,” said retired associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences Greg Shelley. “One talk rarely fixes anything, the conversation needs to continue.”

Expressing struggles is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. Athletes who acknowledge their own issues and work towards addressing them will likely see improvements in their performance.

Some of the toughest coaches might say something like, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Although this is usually in regard to developing athletic techniques and strategies, it applies to mental health, too. Pretending there isn’t an issue will not make it go away. You must embrace the issue in order to cope, heal and prosper.

The Ithacan can be reached at ithacan@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @IthacanOnline