Mental Health Care
Mental Health = Wellness
Beyond Blue has a great definition: "Mental health is about wellness, not illness."ii
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as "a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."
At the start of each season, it's helpful to sit down with your coach and parents to map out the year. Early identification of stressful periods and athlete career planning (short and long term) is helpful in managing competing priorities. Examples include athletes undertaking Year 12 or university exams or developing a 'Plan B' for periods of injury.
'Mental health aware' athletes recognise the warning signs of burnout and take self-care action early. Watchouts include mental and physical fatigue, lack of patience with your support team, putting off tasks, negative self-talk, feeling discouraged and loss of passion for your sport.
Consider the mental health of those around you
Athletes by nature are extraordinarily self-focused it's part of their DNA and why they are driven to succeed. At M5 we encourage athletes to consider the mental health of people around you, particularly your support team of family and coaches. Your parents may be undergoing financial sacrifice to support your career and it's likely your siblings will be impacted in some way. A simple thank you and offer of assistance to help them with their day-to-day activities would be very appreciated.
Coaches are vulnerable to mental health issues, as in many cases they are underpaid, under-resourced, and under pressure for their athletes to perform. Some have strained family relationships, don't take holidays due to workplace pressure for training continuity and fail to make time for their personal health and fitness. Coaches with early starts (in sports such as swimming and rowing) start training from 5am each day which takes its toll over time. Coaches have the additional pressure of being the first to blame for poor athletic performance. High profile coaches are regularly criticised publicly in the media and directly on social media channels. A regular thank you after each session and a gift or card at the end of each season are simple gestures that mean a great deal.
The ability to 'take the pressure off' and calm yourself in times of anxiety is a learned skill. Note what makes you feel better in times of extreme stress and use these as 'go to' actions for future situations. It may be going for a run and venting frustration, taking a moment to have a break and slow down your breathing, going for a coffee with friends, heading to the pool or beach for a swim, journalling your thoughts, or watching a movie to take your mind off things.
A few things to consider:
- Try to gain some perspective. Is the situation as bad as it seems? What can you do to resolve the issue?
- Give yourself time to absorb the issue or 'sleep on it'. Don't make any sudden decisions.
- Identify what is within your control, accepting what is not worthy of your energy.
- Meditation can be very helpful. There are a wide variety of APPS available or visit Headspace
- The power of positive self-talk. If you catch yourself in a cycle of negativity, identify them as unhelpful thoughts that are preventing you from moving forward. Consciously switch your thinking around to positive, proactive thinking.
Remember you are not alone. Everyone has moments where they lack confidence and periods of self-doubt. There are many options and resources available to provide support.
Where to get further information and support
- Talk to your parents, trusted friends and coach about your concerns.
- Ask your GP to refer you to a counsellor
- Headspace provides information and support for young Australians aged 12-25
- Beyond Blue has a great website with a wide range of support resources.
- The AIS has a mental health referral network.
- Explore the resources available through your club or sporting federation, including sports psychology.
It’s OK to put your hand up and say “I need help”
i Sabato TM, Walch TJ, Caine DJ. The elite young athlete: strategies to ensure physical and emotional health. Open Access J Sports Med. 2016;7:99113. Published 2016 Aug 31. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S96821
ii Beyond Blue Website: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/what-is-mental-health