Mental health - Even the tenacious sports stars fail to keep up

Some of the sports stars who have suffered depression even succumbed. Despite the stigma, an increasing number of sports personalities are now stepping away from that ‘pressure cooker’ as soon as they find themselves in the middle of a downward spiral.

sports stars who have suffered depression

The talks of mental health are galore these days.  Nobody is immune to mental illness. Not even our sports stars.

We never get tired of chanting our favorite sports stars who we adore, love, follow and epitomize as our role model to draw inspiration from. But little do we know what mental drill they go through. We remain so fantasized about their lavish lifestyle and the glamour that we almost become oblivious of the fact that our sports idols also deal with the same mental turbulence that we all go through. Be it, depression, stress, anxiety, or mental illness of any sort.

Many professional athletes suffer in silence because they don’t get the mental health care they need. Some of the sports stars who have suffered depression even succumbed.

One such instance is about the decorated cyclist, Kelly Catlin, who was part of the women’s cycling team that brought home a silver medal for America in 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Almost three years later, on March 7, 2019, Catlin took her own life.

Her father, Mark Catlin, told the Washington Post that his daughter’s last six months were the perfect storm of issues, including overtraining and a concussion. They also included health issues from surviving a previous suicide attempt, brought by her depression. News of Catlin’s death shed some light on the mental health of professional athletes.

On the other hand, there are some big names from the sports fraternity, who opened up on their episode of depression and how they fought it, highlighting the importance of speaking up and reaching out.

Retired competitive swimmer Michael Phelps is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, boasting a total of 28 medals, but that didn’t make him immune to depression. “After every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression,” said Phelps in a 2018 interview with CNN, who has admitted to using drugs to self-medicate and contemplating suicide. He now uses his experience to help others through the Michael Phelps Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

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Serena Williams may have had a hugely successful career as a global tennis champion, but her sporting achievements weren’t enough to keep depression away. In 2011, Williams revealed that she had been battling depression since winning Wimbledon the previous year, following injuries and health difficulties. “I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around,” she said in a 2011 interview with The Telegraph. Williams has also opened up about postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter Olympia in 2017.

Former professional basketball player Delonte West confirmed that he was battling depression and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008. “It’s been haunting me my whole life, self-destructive behavior,” he said in a 2008 interview with “When everything is on the upside, I’m feeling the worst.” West’s mental health has continued to make headlines in recent years, such as when photos of him walking around late at night in a hospital gown, without shoes were shared on social media.

Virat Kohli also shared his dark spell of depression.  “I have gone through a phase in my career where I felt like it was the end of the world. In England in 2014, I just didn’t know what to do, what to say to anyone, how to speak, how to communicate. I could have said that I am not feeling great mentally and need to get away from the game. But you never know how that’s taken.” These were the words of the captain of the Indian cricket team and arguably the best cricketer in the world today. This admission came on the heels of several Australian cricketers taking time off from the game to focus on their mental health.

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Elsewhere, India’s premier fast bowler, Mohammed Shami, opened up on the darkest phase of his life when he tried to commit suicide thrice, while conversing with Rohit Sharma on a social media live chat.

Shami’s life turned upside down after coming back from the 2018 South African tour. Allegedly, his now-estranged wife, Hasin Jahan, accused Shami of domestic violence.

She also involved his brother and family accusing them of an attempt to murder and that took a toll on Shami’s mental health that triggered him to think of ending his life. Also, Shami revealed that he wanted to jump off the 24th floor of his building. “I was not thinking about cricket at all. We were living on the 24th floor. They (family) were scared I might jump from the balcony. My brother supported me a lot,” added Shami.

Former Indian cricket team fast bowler Praveen Kumar also opened up about fame and depression and the Uttar Pradesh cricketer revealed that at one point, he decided to take his own life. Kumar, played 68 ODIs, 6 Tests, 10 T20Is for India, admitted that he wanted to commit suicide with his revolver in a highway to Haridwar but he decided to not go ahead with it after seeing a photograph of his children inside the car.

Despite the stigma, an increasing number of sports personalities are now stepping away from that ‘pressure cooker’ as soon as they find themselves in the middle of a downward spiral.

It merely highlights the pressures professional sports persons – even the best ones – go through. In today’s time when media glare on sportspersons has increased and social media has enabled millions of fans to criticise any athlete directly, most sportspersons live in a pressure cooker of their own creation, where performance-related anxiety and insecurity leads to issues in personal lives as well.

They can stop the slide by having a conversation and then seeking out counselling. It’s all about knowledge and education.

I have a very strong body, yet it can still break down, and the mind is the same. Depression is a mental injury that needs diagnosing and treating.

You’ve got to find the triggers, analyse them and then reduce the chances of a depressive episode. If people are educated about depression, they have a better chance of understanding the triggers, spotting the signs of depression and doing something about it – whether in themselves or others.

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