Athletes are considered heroes to many, often representing strength, resilience and mental toughness. Despite these qualities benefiting sport performance, there is a connotation that an athlete must always be OK and that expressing any suffering, doubt or negative thought is considered a weakness, especially for male athletes.
There is often confusion among fans, coaches and peers when an athlete says they are feeling depressed, especially when they are at the pinnacle of their sporting career. This mentality was highlighted when Andrew Luck, a distinguished quarterback for the Colts in the NFL announced his retirement due to being trapped in a tormenting cycle of injury, pain and rehab. Social media erupted with outrage at how he could be so foolish to walk away from millions of dollars and a dream career that most can only fantasise about. Although, on the surface that is what is seemed, listening to interviews from Luck over the past year attested to the amount of suffering he was experiencing, with phrases like “I feel no worth as a human and the world is a dark place to live in”
Many people overlooked the fact that Andrew Luck is a person alongside being an American Footballer; he is a husband, a son and a brother. Those alternate identities are often forgotten when an individual is an acclaimed athlete. There is often little empathy towards injured athletes as it is expected within sport. However, Roderick’s research (2003) highlighted that an athletes sense of self is deeply invested in their physical body; consequently, a bad injury is a disruption of the self that is equivalent to the trauma of a chronic illness. The concept of injuries affecting athletes has been accepted to the degree that athletes are encouraged to normalise pain and silence the amount of their suffering.
It is crucial that athletes approach the taboo topic of mental health, the same way that society is approaching it by speaking out, seeking help and having a trusted environment to admit when they are struggling. It is paramount that Sport Psychologists refer on when an athlete is experiencing a mental health problem, but early interventions during an injury and encouraging athletes to speak openly and honestly about their experiences and feelings can dramatically increase a player’s experience during and after injury. Sport Psychologists can also encourage coaches’, players and parents to allow patience for the athlete and express empathy as it vital that athletes have a trusted environment to express themselves in.