Depression in Athletes


We all have had times in our lives where we are particularly down due to unfortunate circumstances that are going on around us. When it comes to being an athlete, the pressure, the fame, the disappointments can all lead to a decreased feeling of positive emotions and less self-efficacy. Having the capability to talk about your frustrations and get critical feedback from sports psychologists can be what saves an individual’s over all well-being.

Many may say that being part of a team can decrease one’s chances of depression. Although this can is true, athletes who have depression that goes untreated can not only be detrimental to team performance, but also the individual’s outlook on their own personal life off the playing field. Having a community of people who care for you like a team can be uplifting and can help bring athletes out of depression. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just take positivity from the team or the coach. Getting back into the game takes positive self talk, which is one of the hardest things to do for an athlete suffering from depression.

Athletes who suffer from depression often can harm themselves in different ways such as substance abuse, physical abuse, and also suicide. There comes a stage in depression that has little to do with what is going on around you, rather what is going on inside you. To any sports spectator, it seems ridiculous when professional athletes who are famous beyond belief can suffer from being chronically sad. It doesn’t make sense. These athletes are glorified and seen as inspirations to people around the nation and globe. Those who are engaging in the spectacle of sport look to these professionals to be healthy, without mental illness, and strong. But the truth of the matter is, these athletes are just humans who suffer from the same exact thing us “normal” humans do.

Mental illness already has a stigma in general. When it comes to a professional athlete feeling depressed, their mental capacity for the game is lost and will ultimately affect their play. With the opportunity of being in the limelight, an athlete is public property, a celebrity, and someone who has an image to uphold. If they are seen as weak or unstable, their performance will be judged, which will most likely heighten their feelings of unease.

Dr. Donald Malone, a psychiatrist says it best when he states:

“If an athletes stubs their toe, they’re in an MRI machine, but if they’re having problems mentally, they feel they shouldn’t tell people about this. Like it may affect their contract. There’s a little reality to it, but the bigger reality is if you get treated, you’ll perform better” 


Athletes have an immense amount of weight on their shoulders to be stable on a mental level. If their well-being and emotions are ever questioned, it seems to be deemed as unmanageable. Having sports psychologists available to athletes is crucial considering mental illness does not discriminate based off of athletic ability. One in about 10 Americans are diagnosed with some type of mental illness like depression. With these numbers and the numbers of depression induced suicides in athletes, you would think more organizations would invest more money in research to see where these dots line up.

Depression can not only affect your mental mood but also many physical aspects as well, such as lack of sleep, a suppressed immune system, and poor eating habits. As an athlete, all of these physical attributes that come with depression can decrease one’s ability to perform in any type of competition. Within sports culture, there is this idea of hyper-masculinity, which can impact one’s ability to admit their flaws and to seek help.

What contributes to depression in athletes:

Pressure, biology (which can leave individuals more vulnerable to mental illnesses like depression when in certain environments), balance between academics or life and sport, past trauma that cannot be answered through sports, and negative self-talk. The list goes on.


When it comes to addressing depression, many sports psychologists want to help young athletes understand what exactly it means to be depressed and how it is something that needs to be addressed early on. By doing so, these athletes that grow up and move into professional sports, can help educate their teammates about mental illness. This information will not only get through to the team but also to the community of sports as well. This can help decrease stigma and encourage players to address the mental issues they may be experiencing when it comes to sports. Having sports psychologists available for professional athletes is crucial for performance because without their insight on mental health, athletes will continue to suffer and won’t get the help they need to perform.



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