Inside the Mind of an Athlete: Injury and Mental Health Edition

The athlete depicted here is an 18-year-old male, Division I lacrosse athlete, injured during the middle of his first season. Here is his story.

 

“Wake up at 6:30 am for conditioning. I don’t get the point of going now that I’m injured, but everyone keeps saying that I should still try to be a part of the team. Alright, I’m here now and I get to watch and keep times, awesome. I could be sleeping in before class, shouldn’t I be sleeping since I’m trying to recover any ways? Nevermind, no time for that now I’m off to therapy before class, might as well get it over with any ways. Therapy seems to be working a little, but not as much and as fast as I want it to. Maybe I’ll ask today if I can move this process along faster so I can get back to playing again. Asked, they said my body still has healing to do so I can’t rush things. I’m not trying to rush things I just feel like I can move on already. They don’t get it. Nobody gets it. Mom called, she’s worried about me. I tell her I’m fine like always, I don’t want her to worry. I have to go to class now any ways. Getting to class is such a hassle now though, I hate that people have to help me so much. I also hate walking into class and everybody asking me what’s wrong. Thank you for making me relive this moment over and over again. I’m fine. Don’t my teachers know that I don’t need special treatment? I’m a man, I got this. Back to sitting on my butt again, oh wait I mean practice. What did he say? I guess it’s another inside joke I missed while I was at therapy today, oh well. My teammates and coaches keep trying to make sure I’m okay, but I’m fine I wish everyone would get off my case. Oh cool time to cheer on my teammates again, at weight training, another thing I can’t be a part of, sweet. I wish the strength coaches would stop asking me if I can do anything yet, I’m pretty sure they’re kidding around but it’s frustrating. They act like I don’t want to be involved. Why is my teammate looking at me like I’m taking the easy way out? Don’t they know I want to be involved in their workout to? I would give anything to be a part of this right now. They don’t get it. No one understands what it’s like to have to sit and watch. I get lectures about staying positive and cheering on the team since I’m just sitting here, but who’s cheering for me? Oh well time to go do homework. I mean I don’t want special treatment, but man I wish my teachers would take it easy on me. I wish they knew how hard it was to get comfortable before I wrote this 10 page paper. I can’t tell them that though, I’m fine. My roommates say I’m just milking this injury any way so I’ll be okay. I’ll just finish this paper in the morning so I can get a good night sleep to I help myself heal. Oh wait, I don’t have time in the morning we have an individuals practice they want me there for and then I have therapy, weight training, and then class. I’m fine, I can do this, I’m a man, I’m just milking this injury any ways…..”

Can you imagine putting yourself in this student-athlete’s shoes for a day? In just one day, he has to struggled with feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and all while trying to put on a happy face for everyone around him. How could he tell people that he was over-whelmed and not getting the necessary things done in order for him to feel okay? There is still a social stigma involving mental illness, especially, when you’re in the athlete world that it’s hard to speak up. At Wright State, we strive to empower our athletes to have that voice. At this university it’s okay for student-athletes to come to anyone involved in athletics and say that they need help.

The NCAA further describes attributes in their article that apply to all of their member institutions, regarding best practices for dealing with athletes with mental illness. To begin, they suggest screening for possible mental health issues before the season would even start, which could be as simple as mental health questions on a pre-participation medical history form. If for some reason the mental illness isn’t detected, or it isn’t brought on until an injury occurs, then it is helpful to take on a team approach for providing care. Mental health teams can be made up of a multitude of individuals or departments. Here at Wright State, we consider Athletic Trainers, Team Physicians, Licensed Psychologists, Social Workers, Life Skills support staff, Registered Dieticians, Peer Support Specialists, Faculty Athletic Representatives, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Representatives, Coaches and Instructors to be valuable members of this team. These people are able to help in management of emergency mental health situations and routine mental health referrals. It is important to note however, patient confidentiality and trust are imperative in these instances. There are limits to confidentiality, but the athlete must trust the individuals will not include anyone that does not need to be involved in their particular case. The final helpful step that the NCAA suggests is a health-promoting environment that supports mental well-being and resilience. Again, the team of people that promotes this type of environment will allow every student, athlete or not, to feel as though they can speak up when something goes wrong, instead of just saying they’re fine.

At Wright State University we do our best to create that safe environment for all of our athletes. As a team member here are some red flags that you can look for when working with students:

· Excessive worrying or fear

· Feeling excessively sad or low

· Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

· Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

· Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

· Avoiding friends and social activities

· Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

· Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

· Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

· Changes in sex drive

· Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)

· Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)

· Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

· Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)

· Contemplating about suicide

· Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

· An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance (mostly in adolescents)

 

For additional information, below are specific resources to help any student if you believe they are suffering from one of the many mental health related illnesses.

Wright State University Counseling and Wellness

http://www.wright.edu/counseling-and-wellness

Telephone: (937) 775-3407

Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m

Community Resources:

Suicide Prevention Center Crisis Line (937) 229-7777

Samaritan Crisis Care (Montgomery County) (937) 224-4646

The Community Network (Green County) (937) 426-2302 or 376-8701

American Psychological Association

http://www.apa.org/about/gr/education/news/2011/college-campuses.aspx

National Alliance on Mental Illness

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs

Article:

Mental Health Best Practices. Available at: http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Mental%20Health%20Best%20Practices%20WEB%20SINGLE.pdf

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs

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