I think the numbers are probably similar in sport to those of the general population - so one in 4 or 5 will experience a mental illness. However high performance sport does have some unique challenges and pressures which may drive the numbers up.
Hi Greg - there's always a risk if we focus intensely on ourselves that we may start to see or exaggerate things that are not necessarily a problem. I do think though that we need more awareness of mental health symptoms and difficulties - a lot of times athletes will just think they are feeling "bad" when there is actually some serious "stuff" going on. So they do need to know what to look/watch for.
Hi Karen (nice name :- ) Depression is tough for everyone who goes through it - but I agree that being in the public eye at the same time can have pretty nasty consequences. Having open, supportive relationships is extremely important and protective - as well as healing. Sports men and women need to be able to talk to people outside sport, to have some balance so that life and their entire identity doesn't hinge on sport. The key thing to watch for is "change" - if a person suddenly seems different then it may be that they need some professional support.
Hi Greg. Cricket is definitely one of the toughest - Super rugby referees don't have it so easy either! The reasons cricket is so psychologically challenging are that mistakes are punished so mercilessly; that players are trying to be good team members when they rely on their individual stats to keep their place in the team; the long periods of downtime and in the field that give players a dangerous amount of thinking time. Also the long periods away from home put huge pressures on relationships. Finally, the three different formats demand different mental focuses and that can be challenging in itself.
Hi Matthew - Cricket and Rugby have set up programmes through their Players Assocs which provide some education and psychological input for players who are struggling. Some players are very reluctant to come clean about their problems though because of the stigma of mental illness which is still very much alive in male sport. NZ sport in general (and i may not be popular for saying this) is poor in terms of mental health education and programmes. We have a very long way to go in this area.
Hi Michael. The research in this area is very limited. Based on clinical experience I would say there would definitely be 20% of athletes struggling with some form of mental illness - so not just depression. But from what I see the numbers are probably higher because of the stresses of high performance sport. It's tough - what we may see as young people "living the dream" is not necessarily the dream at all.
Haha. Nice question Ben. The first step is to assess for what is going on - so to make a diagnosis. Then when I have a current picture we make a treatment plan. All of my work is based on building self knowledge/understanding. Once you understand how you operate, react to various situs and your strengths and weaknesses you can put things in place to help which suit that individual. You'd be amazed how little athletes know about themselves as people.
Depression, anxiety and addictions (alcohol and gambling) are most common in male sports. Depression, anxiety and body image /eating difficulties are most common in women. Relationship problems are huge in both. You're right - nerves are normal. But when the nerves blow out of control, that's when serious problems occur.
Hi Mike - true. Often depression will present in men as anger. So it can take a while and a bit of digging to identify the sadness and stress underneath.
Good routines. I'm amazed how many guys (and girls() get to the top in their sports and still have no idea about how to set and stick to a routine. Starting from the night before. Visualisation or imaging can work really well but it's important to have all the basics in place first.
Hi Bob. NZ is a bit limited in specific sports psych qualifications but there are good sports psych papers on offer at several of the universities/polytechs. That's a good start to see if you like it. My pathway was via phys education and clinical psychology so that was a bit different.
Thanks guys for all your questions and a special thanks to Karen for giving up her time to answer them. That's all we have time for today. Make sure you continue to check the Herald for our on-going series addressing mental health in elite sport.