Sports are a huge part of American culture, and the athletes who compete are often held up as heroes (or villains if they play for a rival) who are larger than life. They are in peak physical condition, they are adored by their fans, and at the top levels of the most popular sports they are paid mind-boggling amounts of money.
For those of us who cheer them on from the stands or from our couches, it may seem as though elite athletes have a charmed life—a life that is easy to envy.
But the truth is, of course, more complicated than what we see during competition. Athletes are, after all, just human beings, and no matter how good they are or how much money they make, they are still susceptible to mental health disorders.
Elite Athletes Open Up About Mental Health
Indeed, many high profile athletes have been honest about their mental health struggles over the years, and their honesty can be an inspiration for all of us. Let’s take a look at what some exceptional competitors have said about the challenges presented by mental health disorders.
Tennis Star Naomi Osaka
“Believe it or not, I am naturally introverted and do not court the spotlight. I always try to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right, but that often comes at a cost of great anxiety. I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it’s still so new to me and I don’t have all the answers. I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.” – Naomi Osaka
Writing in Time magazine after her withdrawal from the French Open shone a spotlight on Osaka and her mental health, the tennis star reminded us all that we can—and should—talk about mental health.
In the face of all of the criticism she received, Osaka also received a great deal of support—including from another exceptional athlete who has also dealt with a mental health disorder. Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps was in Osaka’s corner because he knows that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it is often a sign of strength.
Swimming Legend Michael Phelps
“If someone wants to call me weak for asking for help, that’s their problem. Because I’m saving my own life.” – Michael Phelps
It might seem impossible that a person as accomplished as Phelps could experience depression and suicidal thoughts, but he has been very open about his struggles. Being the greatest athlete in a particular area of competition does not make one immune to mental health disorders. Phelps correctly centers the way he thinks about mental health around what he needs—not around what other people might think.
NBA All-Star & Champion Kevin Love
On that point, NBA player Kevin Love reminds us that no one should be judgmental about mental health issues because no one is immune to them.
“Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another. It’s part of life.” – Kevin Love
Love is a top flight basketball player who has struggled with panic attacks and depression throughout his career. His willingness to acknowledge that fact—and to point out that mental health is a subject that impacts us all—demonstrates a willingness to be vulnerable, a trait not often associated with athletes.
But Love, like Osaka and Phelps, uses his platform as an admired athlete to set a positive example for others who may be struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma-based disorders, or other mental health disorders. By stepping forward and sharing the story of their personal struggles, they encourage those who need help to seek it out.
When It Comes to Your Mental Health, We Are On Your Team
Have these athletes’ stories resonated with you? If you are struggling with a mental health disorder, we urge you to follow the example of these fierce competitors who are always ready to stare down a challenge. Get back in the game of life by getting personalized treatment designed to improve your mental well-being.
At Peak View Behavioral Health, we have the compassion, experience, and expertise necessary to help you improve your mental health—and maintain that improvement over time. The ball is in your court. If you are ready to get help, we say, “game on.”