Athletes and mental illness

Mental health within athletics

Athletes, while exceling at a physically difficult task and/or having celebrity status, are not immune to mental health disorders. In actuality, they may be more likely to suffer from certain mental health disorders because of the circumstances that they regularly endure, the multiple physical and situational traumas they sustain, and their unique stressors. Recently, celebrity athletes have publicly disclosed that they have been diagnosed with mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder (Royce White), and dissociate identity disorder (Hershel Walker). Eating disorders, depression, and substance abuse disorders are also very common among the athletic population. Within sport it is common for coaches, managers, athletic directors etc. to allow these issues to go unaddressed (which by the way is neglect). This is a result of these stakeholders not wanting to compromise their image, political reasons, or wanting the athlete to “man up” to their problem. In reality serious mental health disorders such as anxiety, phobias, and DID are not disorders that individuals can address on their own, they require professional help. If anyone you know may be suffering from a mental health disorder, show your unconditional support, and gently help them in their contemplation of receiving treatment.

In addition, athletes are human beings, just like you and me. Just because they can dunk a basketball or throw a football does not make them God like. They suffer from disease, psychological and physical, and should receive the care and treatment they need and deserve without retribution. Royce White’s career has suffered as a result of him speaking out, and his team refusing to help him receive treatment (FYI his phobia is simple and quick to treat) did not help his case. But I believe he is brave for what he did, and it is my hopes that soon the realm of sport will start taking ownership of helping their players not only with physical injuries but psychological ones as well.

Nelson Mandela was a tremendous world influence and advocate, his 95 years on this earth were well spent and his work will continue to resonate for years to come. So I leave you with a quote from him, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I believe that through education, and advocacy, the athletic realm can be transformed into a better, more healthy place. This blog is not meant to be just for your own educational value, but to also share it, spread it and do good with it. In Nelson Mandela’s spirit of beliefs and actions, no person should suffer, athletes included.

Namaste friends

Happy Thanksgiving

Hello followers! 

Happy turkey day to those from the U.S., and happy last week of November to everyone else. 

I apologize, but this week I will not be posting an article. I just started a new job, am relocating, celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, and watching multiple football games, so in short am so busy my head is still spinning! But I promise next week will post an entry that will make up for a lack of one this week! 

Also, in the spirit of thanksgiving, I am very grateful for life, love, athletes, and everyone who follows this blog and continues to do great work in the field of athletics. Enjoy the holiday, spend time with family and friends, relax a little bit, and practice being grateful for the things you have in your life. 

Student-athletes: Choosing an academic major

Why social work is a good major for student-athlete to study

An important decision for student-athletes at the collegiate level is what academic major to study (and sometimes chosen for them). While some student-athletes put academics high on their priority list, some do not. Others may wrestle with maintaining a difficult major that they enjoy, or choosing a less difficult major that allows them more time for athletics. Whatever an athlete chooses as their academic major, they need to keep in mind that this will aid in their career success in the future. As a student-athlete, especially one in a sport that has professional prospects, it can be difficult for them to see much past their sport. However, every student athlete should choose a major that they can use in the future, after their athletic careers have ended (because this will happen to everyone at some time). In addition, some athletes have their major chosen for them by the athletic departments in order to ensure the athlete is able to continue to perform well within their sport, but let’s hold that topic for another time. A major that is fascinating, will broaden an athlete’s perspective, and will allow them ample time for their athletic endeavors, is social work.

The general public’s perception of social workers is that of DSS workers, burnout, and baby snatchers. However, as the media most often portrays the worst of any situation, this is also the case. Most social workers practice psychotherapy, or work for non-profits performing duties such as running programs or case management. I propose this as a major student-athletes should explore because not only is it interesting, it also enables them to use their popularity and recognition as an athlete for a good cause. Many organizations, especially those that work with children, would enjoy having an athlete that has worked hard and overcome obstacles as their social worker. Social work allows individuals to learn about different cultures and types of people, and more importantly themselves. Social work professors are also aware of the stressors that student-athletes may be experiencing as a part of their academic experience and can work with student-athlete to ensure their needs are being met, while not enabling them, and ensure they have success in their academics. There are also many opportunities social work majors can pursue after graduation, including a master degree to practice at a higher level. The skills learned through a social work education can also be applicable to many other professions or career aspects, including but not limited to: human behavior and interactions, cultural competence, ethics, research, program design and implementation. Social work as a major can also be transferred into various athletic professions because of their work with people, and teaching skill sets to individuals.

I hope any student-athletes reading this will at least consider social work as a major, and browse their school’s department of social work website to learn more. Remember that academics come first within college athletics and sport comes second. No matter how well you play in college, you will need your degree sometime in the future. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment. Also a big thank you to the reader who left a very kind comment last week! Your comments are appreciated and I am so glad to hear ya’ll are enjoying it and benefiting from this blog. We all can make a difference to improving the lives of athlete’s everywhere.

Namaste 

Bullying and abuse in sport

Blog post: bullying within sport

Recent news has shed some light on bullying within the athletic realm. Members of the Miami Dolphins professional football team have been accused of verbally harassing one of their teammates, Johnathon Martin. Martin in turn made the, I’m sure extremely devastating, choice to leave the Dolphins. Bullying, harassment and abuse within sport is much more prevalent than the general population knows or chooses to acknowledge. Because athletes are often glorified by others, they are often perceived as people who are immune to ailments such as bullying or abuse. As Martin so courageously pointed out, it happens. I can assure you that not only does it happen,  but happens at staggering rates. Research statistics on prevalence of bullying, harassment or abuse are practically non existent. The NCAA conducts reports on hazing within college athletics but even that is minimal. Why is the research so sparse and overlooked on this subject? There are many reasons. For one, the majority of athletes do not have ally’s to turn to when they are a victim of abuse, or bullying. Even Martin turned to his lawyer, which from a social services standpoint has not trauma training, or expertise in mental health, from which to aid in his emotional needs or know how to properly handle the situation. Mental health professionals such as social workers, counselors, psychologists etc are trained and knowledgable of how to properly handle situations involving bullying and abuse. However, according to research athletes at the less likely, compared to the general population, to seek help from these professionals. This is because these professionals are not already involved within the athletic realm, like athletic trainers for instance, therefore athletes are unlikely to seek their aid. Athletes are also trained from a young age to “be tough”,and  “push through it” because pain or suffering means weakness, which historically within sport, should not be shown. This means reporting bullying can be perceived as weakness. Athletes also may have fear that the person they turn to to report the bullying or abuse will not believe them, which could put them in danger of additional abuse.

Research is also sparse on the topic of abuse and bullying because of athletic politics. The business of athletics is a multi billion dollar one, and airing their dirty laundry would more than likely hurt their business. However, the NCAA has made a commitment to student athlete well being, and needs to honor that in a wholistic manner, not just what they think is important. Attached is a link to an article to help further outline bullying within sport as well as ways to identify it, and how to handle if someone reports bullying or abuse.

Namaste

http://www.sportlaw.ca/site/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/CASEM-Discussion-Paper-December-2010.pdf

The dumb jock stereotype

Student-athlete aka dumb jock stereotype

First I want to apologize to everyone who reads my blog, because I have been doing all of you a disservice. I stated that the majority of my work would be based on peer-reviewed research, and while it has, I could have presented my articles based primarily on research and less opinion based. Lately, it has been mostly opinion based with research to back it up, but not the other way around. So for this, I apologize. I have no excuse. I have had many personal changes and stressors in my life lately, therefore the quality of this blog has suffered because of it, but am making alterations in my life to ensure that from now on it will be more research based, and then my professional opinion and reflections based upon the research.

Stone performed research on how the dumb jock stereotype negatively influences student-athlete academic performance. Whether athlete’s know it or not, when they are referred to as “student-athlete’s” their academic performance decreases, especially if they are male, African American or otherwise more interested in their sport than academics. Why is that? Because the athlete brain is trained to absorb and respond to everything they hear. When a coach gives a correction, the athlete trusts the coaches expertise and responds. Therefore, when teachers, parents, classmates etc give athletes either verbal or non-verbal cues that they are inherently not academically good students their brains respond by conforming to these cues. Verbal cues are pretty self-explanatory. The non-verbal cues however are more difficult to notice. Those could be teachers providing athletes with special care, or better grades than they deserved, simply because they are athletes. It can also take the form of athletes not qualifying for academic honor roll, or dean’s list.

Stone conducted research with college student-athletes, taking tests using standardized test questions such as the GRE or SAT. In the beginning the experimental group self-identified as athlete, or scholar athlete. The control group identified themselves as a research participant. The experimental group on average performed worse than the control group. From this, Stone concluded that those who are perceived as athletes or scholar athletes have an unconscious reaction to perform worse academically. In my professional opinion there are several flaws in this research design, and I would recommend a replication of the study with some modifications in order to make a stronger correlation between the two. But nonetheless there is some merit to this study. Athletes while being idolized because of their athletic ability, are subject to negative stigma and stereotyping from others. In addition, athletes are not solely their sport, they have lives outside of their sport which ought to receive nurture and attention as well. The vast majority of athletes do not make careers from their sport, but rather have dreams of curing cancer, or being a teacher. This means, their education and minds need to receive equal attention and better treatment from their academic peers and professors compared to their athletic ability.

In closing, here is a short video in which I hope will help heal your soul, and remember that athletes are people too, just trying to make the world a better place.

http://elitedaily.com/news/world/can-learn-lot-middle-school-football-team-video/

Stone, J. 2012. “ A hidden toxicity in the term “student-athlete”: Stereotype threat for athletes in the college classroom.” Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy.

Namaste

 

How to: Be a successful athlete without damaging your health

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Hello wordpress community!

I am back on track this week and will be discussing how to be a successful athlete without damaging your health. First I want to start by explaining the inspiration for this article. It was a set of articles in the local paper where I live on high school football players gaining tremendous amounts of weight (total body weight in excess of 300 lbs) in order to (in their minds) consider themselves eligible for college football. Some of these high school players gained the weight in healthy manner, ie: eating healthy foods and weight lifting, while others did not, ie: eating empty calorie foods. While I can comprehend how some of these young men could have this mindset, it is extremely devastating for not only their current health but future health as well.

While being an athlete is on the surface a healthy lifestyle, for many athletes, it severely compromises their health. An athlete is trained and programmed to push their bodies to their competitive limits, which more often than not, results in decreased health. Therefore, as I have stated many times before, being a successful athlete is about balance. Balancing your health and athletic goals.

Cause and effect of poor athletic health:

 Training multiple hours a day, malnourishment, negative beliefs, abusive coaches, lack of sleep and many others are the culprit for poor athlete health. These aspects of what outdated logic has told us defines a “good athlete” require change. Why? Because this method is what makes athletes suffer from mental illness, injuries, and burn out. While many athletes may be unaware, many of them are suffering from mental illness, or are aware and suffering silently. I say unaware, because within athletics many mental illnesses have become the norm within the culture, such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. This does not discount that these are very serious mental health problems that must be addressed and treated.

How to preserve and increase health as an athlete:

  1. Train with assistance of a professional. Use this professional and their knowledge and ask questions. High school, college and professional athletes have the best resources for professional assistance in their athletic careers. Other athletes have many resources available to them as well including groups, clubs or organizations they can join for their sport, which usually have  someone certified or knowledgeable about safe training for their specific sport, or medical professionals. 
  2. Listen and be kind to your body. If you begin to have injuries or sickness, this is your body’s way of telling you to slow down and change your training regimen, so do that. Be sure you are getting the necessary nutrients, calories, vitamins, water and electrolytes throughout the day. Be sure you are getting enough sleep (8 hours is the recommended, while some people require more or less). Ensure your stress levels are minimal. Stress creates damage to your body and inhibits athletic performance, using meditative practices will help keep your stress levels low. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Your intuition is your greatest decision maker, but many people often ignore it. On that same note, if you aren’t having fun with your training or do not have some type of essential gain from it (such as a scholarship for college education) change what you are doing so you enjoy it or stop all together. Life is to short to be doing something you don’t enjoy. ( I would also encourage that even if you were receiving an athletic scholarship and you are not enjoying your experience to explore other educational payment options such as a loan or non-athletic scholarship if you are no longer enjoying your sport)
  3. Seek help when needed. Athletes are the least likely to seek help compared to the general public, so let’s break the mold and start getting help when necessary. There is no shame in doing what is right for your health, especially when it will aid in a longer more fulfilled life.

Why it is important:

Each person only gets one body and one life, and it is our choice on how we treat both of those. Even if you have made mistakes in the past, it is never too late amend them and make a change for the future. It is also never too late for preventative measures.

While the media portrays athletes as the model of health perfection, they are more often than not the ones who live shorter lives than non-athletes. So take care of your body while pursuing your dreams. Life is about balance and you can achieve greatness with both health and athletics.

Namaste friends

Sexual abuse within sport

Hello all! I know I had previously promised an entry on how to be a better athlete without damaging your future health, however, I have decided to postpone that entry until next week. As I have stated in previous entries, some of my ideas for articles are based on current events, and that is what this week is about. A friend posted an article on Facebook from ESPN which is a commentary speaking out about rape within the athletic population, and that got my creative writing juices going! So first things first, read the article (it’s short and sweet, I promise): http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/9845262/society-fails-victims-sexual-assault-stigmatized

My initial thoughts upon reading this article are DUH, and thank you! Macgregor does an excellent job in his article of not referring to all victims being specifically female, but it should be explicitly stated that many males are victims of sexual abuse within athletics as well. Sexual abuse and the rape culture within sports are silenced even more than that of the general population, which makes it even more stigmatizing. Researchers have also stated that sport is a breeding ground for both victims and abusers of sexual assault, which is even more troublesome. There is a good bit of scholarly research on the subject, but to my knowledge no programs are aggressively addressing the issue (if you know of any please let me know). I am a firm advocate of educating athletes, and allowing them access to professional support. By providing not only the athletes with education on how to not be a abuser or a victim, but also the community at large. This is especially true within high schools and colleges. I recommend the high school or college communities as well, because sometimes it may be perceived as “cool” to have engaged in sexual intercourse with an athlete, even if they did not consent or were not in a sober state to give consent.

Macgregor is right, that in order to change the horrific rape culture that is in rampant within our country and athletics, change needs to happen immediately, better yet, like 5 years ago. People need to stop discounting victims and start charging abusers.  Abusers also need to start receiving punishment. If abuser’s keep getting let off from their charges, that sends the message that it is ok for them and others to continue doing what they are doing because nothing bad will happen. News flash, bad things have already happened as a result. Deaths and lives have been ruined because of rapists not being charged and victims being silenced.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse you can find confidential help through the national sexual abuse hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE. You can also report the abuse to the police (911) or visit a local hospital and report and they will help you contact the police.

While this subject is very disheartening (and rage inducing), it is very real and requires attention. But I want to leave you with hope, hope that the rape culture will be diminished soon, and that if you have been a victim of sexual abuse or assault that there are ample resources for you to regain your strength.

“the theme you choose may change, or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean” – Toni Morrison

Namaste 

Managing mental health within athletics

Managing mental health within athletics

As athletes, it is a fair assumption that if not all, then the vast majority of us, have made terrible decisions for our bodies at one time or another, for the sake of excelling in our sport. Over exercising, playing with an injury, eating too much, eating too little, not getting the right nutrition, lack of sleep, increase stress, and the list can go on and on. This is what athlete’s do, our brains and bodies are wired differently than the general population, it seems as if athletes are designed to be a little bit crazy. This is what makes athletes push the limits of their mind and body to make them great. That being said does not mean this type of mental and physical “crazy” is supposed to last a lifetime, or seep into other areas of your life. This type of drive and determination is excellent for sport, and even sometimes other areas of one’s life, as long as it is within reason. The saying, “everything is ok within reason” definitely applies here. Athletes are notorious for taking things a little bit too far, and sometimes out of control. So how do you know when it’s time to get help (or help someone else get help)?

  1. When someone starts talking about harming themselves, or others. Someone may just be kidding around, or joking, so inquire of their seriousness. If you feel slightly concerned that they may go through with what they speak of, tell a professional. Dial your local crisis or suicide hotline.
  2. When their negative or maladaptive behaviors start to infiltrate other areas of the person’s life, such as school, work, relationships or home.
  3. When you begin having health complications. Injury and diminished health is a way that the body uses to tell you that you need a break or a change in your routine.
  4. When other people start telling you that what you are doing is crazy, insane, or bad for you. While this is easy to brush off as an athlete, when outside sources begin to tell you these things, it’s time to start listening.  
  5. When one starts to ignore the little voice in your head saying, that’s not ok, too often. This is intuition speaking, and while it becomes easy to ignore as an athlete in order to push ones limits, when intuition no longer has a voice, it’s easy to have incorrect judgment.

If these statements apply to yourself, or someone you know, be gentle and help them, help themselves. It is best to not accuse them of these things, but simply tell them you are concerned as a friend, partner, family etc. and would feel better if you knew they were obtaining advisement from a professional. Be sure to remind them that you are there to support them, and will aid in any way you can. Express love to them, they will need it during this time. Next week we will address how to be a successful athlete, without damaging your future health.

Be kind to yourself this week,

Namaste

Practice with purpose

Practice with purpose

The practice of sport: How to make the most of your practice

The timeless adage of “practice makes perfect,” is very applicable to sports, as I am sure every athlete has heard this at some time in their athletic careers. However, I suggest a revision. Instead of “practice with purpose”, since perfection is not attainable, and therefore an unrealistic goal, I propose to start using the phrase “practice with purpose I chose purpose, because many times practice time is not utilized to its greatest potential, however, if utilized purposefully, greater gains will be achieved.

Lets explore together how to make the most out of your athletic practice.

Practice as defined by Merriam Webster, has three definitions, the first is: to do something again and again in order to become better at it. Simple enough… but is it really? Albert Einstein defined insanity, as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. These two definitions are very similar, in that, they both utilize repetitive actions, and expect different (better) outcomes. Practice and insanity are actually one in the same. This is why purpose is required for practice of sport. When change is introduced into a practice, it breaks the pattern of insanity, and that change is intended for a purpose, the purpose of change.

When beginning a practice, have a purpose or goal in mind. Goal setting is an extremely helpful tool to advance your athletic abilities, because it gives your mind and body something to work towards. The purpose can be small or large, detailed or not, but make it something. If you are tired the day of your scheduled sport practice, make it something easily attainable. There is no shame in a goal being, “make it through the entire practice without giving up.” Goals cannot be small or large, only implemented and achieved. Make sure your purpose is right for you, and make a goal that feels right. This will also evoke a sense of achievement upon reaching your goal. Here is the more difficult part of goal setting, loving yourself even if you do not reach your goal. There will be days when goals are not attained, but abusing yourself for it will only set you backwards in your athletic practice, not forward. If there is a day when the goal or purpose you set was not attained, examine why it was not attained, what you learned, and what you can work on in the future.

While practicing, ensure that you are not mindlessly going through motions. Ensure that you are actively engaging your mind, and altering motions or skills consistently. In addition, keep your focus. This is where your meditation practice will aid in your athletic practice. Keeping focus on your sport, and not being distracted by other things in your life will ensure that you get the most out of your practice time.

Practice positive thoughts. Berating yourself or others for a mistake inhibits your athletic practice. Also reward yourself for a job well done, and achieving your goals, or just because! Negativity permeates all aspects of sport, and unnecessarily creates a harmful environment. By practicing positivity this will gently change the atmosphere of your practice, and sport, and create positive results for your athletic endeavors.  

Thank you all for reading and I hope you enjoyed! Remember “practice with purpose.”

Namaste