The Impact of Sport on Mental Health
The discussion about mental health and its effects has become bigger than ever in recent years, this is also especially true in sport with many more athletes feeling more comfortable addressing their own battles with mental health.
In late July this year, England cricketer Ben Stokes announced he would be taking an indefinite break from all forms of cricket to ‘prioritize his mental well-being’. This comes after a tough year for sportspeople due to the pandemic. Especially England’s cricketers as they have had to deal with the demands of preparing and playing elite level sports in a ruthless and relentless environment, and on top of this, during the pandemic, have had to spend loads of time away from family and friends as they were required to live in bio-secure bubbles in order to play cricket in a safe environment. However, after a three-month break, Stokes has announced his return and has been added to England’s Ashes squad for the tour of Australia starting in December which has given England’s hopes of winning the series a massive boost.
The media can also have a big impact on an athlete’s mental health. For example, The Sun has had to pay substantial damages to Ben Stokes and his mother after the newspaper reported on the detail of a family tragedy on its front page and by having the story brought up and having to relive it decades after it occurred, must have been extremely tough on Stokes and his family.
Naomi Osaka, the Japanese tennis player, pulled out of the French Open earlier this year as she needed to ‘take some time away from the court’ due to her own mental health concerns. This came after Osaka was told by the organizers she would be thrown out of the tournament if she kept avoiding journalists after she was fined for skipping two news conferences. Osaka put out a statement on Twitter in which she said she was ‘already feeling vulnerable and anxious ahead of the tournament. Osaka had already shared that in the past she had suffered from long episodes of depression. She has also explained how she struggles with anxiety, and to help with this Osaka can be seen wearing headphones in tournaments to try and help with her social anxiety.
Social media will also have a massive impact on athletes and their mental health. This can be shown in this case with Naomi Osaka because after she skipped the interviews many on social media were quick to jump on this opportunity and criticize Osaka, which obviously did not help her situation leading to her withdrawal.
American gymnast Simone Biles suffered from mental health problems as she decided to withdraw from five of her six finals at the Tokyo Olympics over mental health concerns. Speaking to reporters after pulling out Biles said ‘I have to focus on my mental health. I just think mental health is more prevalent in sports right now… we have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.’ The American team however still finished second behind the Russian Olympic Committee.
Biles also added ‘We’re not just athletes, we’re people at the end of the day and sometimes you just have to step back.