Mental health in athletes. According to data from professional athletes, it has been determined that up to 35% of athletes suffer from stress, eating disorders, burnout syndrome or a mental health crisis manifested as depression or anxiety.
But this is an issue that’s becoming far more common in the sport of bodybuilding. What is it about athletes that are more prone to depression or anxiety?
Types of Mental Health in Athletes
Anxiety in Athletes
Anxiety is defined as a “mental state of nervous tension or concern due to an abnormal, acute, or uncontrollable reaction or feeling” (The Oxford English Dictionary). It is the mental state that can manifest as nervousness and high heart rate, feelings of unease, worry, confusion, a feeling of doom, feelings of guilt and shame, and a fear that your life, family, or personal possessions are in jeopardy.
High anxiety can manifest itself as fear of the unknown, feelings of impending doom, and feelings of impending doom.
In a paper published in 2002 by the New York University’s Department of Clinical Investigation, researchers discovered that athletes have significantly higher anxiety and their levels are up to 15 times higher than average American adults (4).
In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in 2006, the average male heighted in the range of 177.1-184.0 inches and 85% were in the lower end of the normal male height spectrum. When the researchers studied anxiety levels among all the participants, it was found that 43% of them were in the category of moderate or high.
Stress in Athletes
What makes stress so devastating is that it is unpredictable and can be triggered by a number of factors. It is also difficult to control and has the potential to cause anxiety.
While no single factor is the cause of all stress, scientists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals agree that the combination of things can make it even more difficult for those with anxiety to sleep, to deal with pain, to manage emotions, or perform well. Many experts agree that certain life events can trigger anxiety and stress in a person.
For example, it is thought that certain life events such as divorce or financial loss can result in an athlete being more susceptible than average to depression.
Stress is often triggered by a variety of factors like financial distress and life events, but stress can be worsened when the athlete is stressed out. It can also occur due to athletes having to compete in an environment where they have limited autonomy in making decisions such as diet and exercise. Athletes who feel they are in control of their physical environment and are able to control their environment do not need to worry so much.
Depression in Athletes
Depression is a serious mental health condition, but unfortunately many athletes appear to have it much more often than others. The National Institute of Mental Health states that a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, which is not an addiction or mental illness, is made in just 2.5% of all the adults who meet the criteria for mental health problems (5).
Major depressive disorder is not a disease but more of a mental illness and while you can’t cure it, you can treat it with drugs or treatments. It is thought that depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States and can be diagnosed in up to 40% of the population.
Depression is a disease, not a mental illness. According to The International Society of Sports Medicine (ISSM), depression does not have to be caused by an underlying illness. It can be a side effect of some physical or mental health conditions, the result of an athlete having an abnormal stress response, or simply a normal body response to stress (6).
There are many things that can cause depression in athletes and it may affect their performance. The most common things that cause depression in athletes include a physical illness such as a chronic infection (like rheumatoid arthritis, asthma or lupus), drug or alcohol addiction, poor nutrition, low self esteem, or an adverse environment such as a personal tragedy such as a divorce or death.
Taken together, these factors can all contribute to the problems and may lead to mental health issues.
What Causes Stress and Anxiety in Athletes?
It is believed that stress is the main cause of mental health issues in athletes. Stress can be a trigger for anxiety and depression in athletes, or it can be a common factor causing the symptoms. Researchers suggest that the cause of stress and anxiety may be the same but it is not always clear who is more likely to experience these.