Why don’t athletes talk more about mental health?

“You all right?”

Everyone has probably been asked this question at one point in their life. It’s easy to answer that question when they’re actually doing all right.

But how often do people share about when they aren’t doing all right?

They might end up answering with something along the lines of “Yea, I’m good”, even if they aren’t feeling good.

It is a fairly common exchange between colleagues, and something that happens on the training ground of many sports clubs.

We know that being an athlete is tough.

They exert themselves physically day in and day out in the pursuit of self-improvement and mastery. Not to mention, the challenges they have to go through to make it to the big stage.

Being an athlete in 2020 is even tougher, with the current Covid-19 pandemic going on. As competitions have been cancelled or postponed, athletes have been thrown into unfamiliar territory for the last few months.

There is this notion that athletes are superhuman, performing feats and achievements that the general public would not be able to, and we look up to these individuals as role models and idols.

“We’re human. We’re human beings, just like everybody else” as Michael Phelps spoke about his experience with mental health and being an Olympian in the HBO documentary “The Weight of Gold”, which I finally had the chance to catch up on.

The swimmer, widely considered as the most successful Olympian, is no stranger to mental health issues, being a strong advocate on the topic for the past few years.

Athletes may be superhuman, but we sometimes forget that even superhumans are human.

That is why we at Mind Gap named our campaign #LuarBIASA, to emphasise this point. “Luarbiasa” equates with the meaning of extraordinary, hence showing a recognised representation of our athletes. However, “BIASA” is capitalised to remind us that our athletes and us do experience many similar issues as well, just like any other human.

All of us go through struggles at some time in our life. And athletes are no exception. We’re all humans deep down.

In a review of over 6,000 former and current elite athletes by Gouttebarge et al., (2019), it was found that 26 per cent of former elite athletes and 34 per cent of current elite athletes showed mental health issues ranging from depression, anxiety, etc.

Why is mental health important?

The World Health Organisation reports depression as the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29-year-olds, with more than 264 million people worldwide of all ages suffering from depression.

To put that into perspective, the Malaysian population is estimated at 32.7 million according to the Department of Statistics of Malaysia.

In the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 of Malaysia, it was found that over 2.3 per cent of the adult population in Malaysia suffers from depression, that’s over half a million people.

You can’t fix something that you are not aware of. The first step is knowing that something isn’t right and acknowledging it.

We always preach that prevention is better than cure. So why should it be any different for mental health?

We want to make conversations about mental health normal, instead of it being an exception. “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”

Providing better mental health literacy to athletes will enable and empower athletes to be more confident in supporting their peers in the sport and to start holding basic conversations around mental health.

Why don’t athletes talk more about mental health? People don’t know what they don’t know until they know it.

Educating athletes on mental health and how to start conversations around it is the first step of many.

Mind Gap and Twentytwo13 are collaborating in the #LuarBIASA campaign. This news website has made a commitment to educate the masses about mental health.

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