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Athlete Depression

Sally Perkins provides advice on why athletes experience depression.

According to the U.K. Mental Health Foundation, approximately 19.7% of the country's citizens over the age of 16 suffer from depression or anxiety. Even though exercise can help improve mental health, The British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that the rate of depression among scholastic athletes can be as high as 21%.

Depression affects athletes in all categories and age ranges. Although the condition can produce a variety of symptoms, it is easily missed unless parents, coaches, trainers, and sports medicine professionals have been educated to recognize the issue and ensure sufferers get help.

All Types of Athletes Are Vulnerable

The rate of depression among scholastic, Olympic, and professional athletes has kept pace with increases in the general population. It is especially common among teens and young adults, who are the most likely to be involved in sports. However, treatment centers such as ARC Rehab treat athletes of all ages who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.

In the last ten to fifteen years, mental health experts have seen a stunning rise in adolescent athletes suffering from depression. But, even elite athletes with years of competition behind them can become depressed. Successful competitors are just as vulnerable as those who are struggling. Michael Phelps is the world's most successful Olympic athlete, yet he has openly shared his struggles with depression throughout his career.

Why Athletes Are Prone to Depression

Some athletes who become depressed are already dealing with mental health issues, and the strains of competition make it worse. However, according to Psychology Today, competitors face unique challenges that make them especially vulnerable.

  • Many suffer from perfectionism. Striving to be the best is a positive trait, but trying to be perfect is unrealistic and can result in problems like overtraining that leads to injuries.
  • Athletes may feel that they are not good enough in the eyes of teammates, coaches, fans, the media, or parents. Their successes and failures are on display for everyone to see.
  • Injured athletes can become depressed because their physical abilities are critical to their success. During long and painful rehabilitation, they may wonder whether they will ever return to normal. Many also fear being re-injured.
  • It is easy for athletes to suffer emotionally if they neglect self-care. Highly motivated competitors can struggle to balance sleep, nutrition, social connections, and personal commitments.
  • A successful athlete often needs to deal with changes in their surroundings, environment, location, and lifestyle. For instance, a young person who moves on to a university on a sports scholarship must deal with much higher expectations. Transitioning from scholastic to professional athletics is an even more significant challenge.

Depression Can Display as a Range of Symptoms

In recent years several elite athletes have committed suicide, and those around them had no idea there was a problem. It's a common issue because changes that point to depression are easily missed.

As a result, many parents, coaches, and trainers are now educating themselves on the subject. It is also common for sports medicine professionals to screen competitors for signs of depression and make sure athletes get the professional help needed to regain mental and emotional balance.

As per The American Society for Sports Medicine, the signs of depression can include:

  • Loss of interest
  • Sadness
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Appetite changes
  • Constant fear or worry
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Risk-taking behaviour

Although athletes often appear to live wonderful lives, many suffer from depression. High expectations, demanding schedules, and injuries are some of the problems that contribute to the problem.

As a result, many parents, coaches, trainers, and sports medicine professionals have learned to identify subtle signs of depression so they can steer sufferers toward help.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • PERKINS, S. (2020) Athlete Depression [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Sally Perkins is a professional freelance writer with many years' experience across many different areas. She made a move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and travelling as much as possible.