Exercise has often been praised as a way of helping to cope with mental illness. And while exercise can reduce stress by releasing endorphins, when taken to a professional level, pursuing sports can become the subject of much anxiety.
The charity Mind has stated that there can be a number of factors which induce the onset of mental illness in professional sportsmen and women.
The pressure to live up to high expectations, a fear of being dropped if they fail to perform to those expectations, and the struggle to deal with their self-identity once they have retired from the sport and can no longer be defined as an athlete, can all be causes of anxiety.
In past years there have been several high-profile suicides amongst professional sportsmen, including footballer Gary Speed (2011), and rugby player Terry Newton (2010).
However, sports organisations are now taking a serious approach towards the issue. Charities such as State of Mind (SoM), have been set up with a specific lens on mental health in sport. Furthermore, organisations such as the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), have set up a helpline, as well as collaborating with the charity Time to Change to publish ‘The Footballer’s Guidebook’, which attempts to offer help to those dealing with negative mental health as a result of sport.
Playing a sport to any competitive level can have an impact on mental health. I have known people who have struggled with the pressure at county and regional level.
The pressure created by a highly competitive environment is not unique to Olympians and Premier League footballers. What is important, is that teams and clubs create a supportive environment and foster connections with support services.
Mental health experts in charities such as Mind, as well as organisations like the NHS, still maintain that exercise has a positive effect on mental health. Sometimes, the stress to perform can build up, and taking a back seat and missing a few competitions can do a world of good.
Alternatively you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 24-hours a day or email firstname.lastname@example.org