As an athlete, you are exposed to many challenging moments, and your relationships, ability to communicate and self-awareness are all important to your well-being and career.
By recognising your own needs and learning how to communicate effectively with your support network, you can find better support for your mental health.
For further advice and resources to help you support your mental health, check out #MentallyFit.
Whether it’s the challenges of training, competition, being away from friends and family for extended periods, or fitting work and study around your sporting commitments, as an elite athlete, you are exposed to many situations that can be stressful. That is why it’s so important that you have a good support network around you, and the strength and self-awareness to communicate mental health challenges that you may be facing.
Reaching out to your support network
As an athlete, your relationship with your support network is crucial and good communication is essential – but it’s often not that easy to talk about your mental health. There are several reasons why you may find it difficult to reach out for support. These barriers include:
- Difficulty or unwillingness to express emotion
- Lack of time
- Lack of awareness to the problem
- Denial of the problem
- Scared of what might happen
- Concern about impact on ability to train or compete
- Not sure who to speak to
- Belief that speaking up won’t help.
Your network, including your coaches, medical team, parents, family, friends and team-mates, have a vital role to play in fostering psychologically safe environments which encourage expressing emotion, normalising conversations around mental health, and supporting mental health self-awareness.
If there are aspects of your mental health or well-being that you wish to discuss, it’s important that you can identify who you would feel comfortable speaking to. You should choose to speak with a trusted person who you can be confident will prioritise your well-being and listen with understanding. Keep in mind that your medical team or other health professionals will understand your need for confidentiality.
You should choose to speak with a trusted person who you can be confident will prioritise your well-being and listen with understanding. Keep in mind that your medical team or other health professionals will understand your need for confidentiality.
There’s great strength in knowing when you need to step back, reach out, and open up to those around you.
Breaking down barriers and developing positive relationships
Creating positive, respectful relationships with your entourage is a proactive way to break down the barriers to help-seeking. Normalising the conversation around mental health with key members of your entourage and making it part of your regular overall health plan can create an environment that is not only open to discussing mental health but supports and encourages it.
For example, the next time that someone asks: “How are you?”, take the time to genuinely think about your response, rather than just reply with a default “OK” or “fine”. Being honest and open about how you are feeling can start to change the conversations that you’re having with your entourage.
Talking about mental health issues that you or your team are facing may also help to send a positive message to everyone in your sport, and the wider community, that mental health is just as important as physical health.
Remember to always be honest with yourself about how you feel; recognise when you need to ask for help and prioritise your own personal needs. There’s great strength in knowing when you need to step back, reach out, and open up to those around you.
We all have a role to play in fostering psychologically safe sporting environments, and sharing your experiences could give those around you the confidence to ask for support when they need it too.