Sports and Health

Mental Health in Sports

Professional athletes share their struggles

gettyimages 102284068


  • Kevin Love, NBA forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers, revealed he suffered from a panic attack during an NBA game in November 2017. [SBNation]

  • Love's story is helping bring to light mental health disorders in professional sports. This includes what they are and potential treatment options.

  • When compared to physical care, athletes do not receive the same level of care for mental health-related issues. [The New York Times]




Generalized anxiety, social anxiety,

phobias, panic disorder. [WebMD]

Mood Disorders

Depression, bipolar disorder. [WebMD]

Psychotic Disorders

Schizophrenia. [WebMD]

Eating Disorder 

Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder.[WebMD]



Roughly 1 in 6 American adults suffer from mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). [National Institutes of Health]


Taking care of your mental health can be just as important as taking care of your physical body. If left untreated, mental health issues can impact daily life and player performance. [USAToday]


High pressure

NCAA 2015 survey of college athletes found 30% reported feelings of depression. Half of the athletes surveyed stated experiencing high levels of anxiety. [NCAA]


Professional athlete Luther Wright also wrote about athletes often feeling “desperate to provide for” their family, which caused high levels of stress and anxiety. [The New York Times]




Athletes are often seen as warriors. Due to this ideal, there “tends to be a stigma around coming forward” about troubles, says Dr. Thelma Dye Holmes. Coaches preaching mental and physical toughness may not help. [The New York Times]



Hard to recognize

Mental health conditions tend to be vague in description. Most coaches are “ill-equipped” to recognize and support their players. [The New York Times]



Clinical care

Anyone suffering from mental illness can seek a licensed professional for care. [Mayo Clinc] For example, family or primary care doctors, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and social workers are all licensed in their specialty.



Friends and family

Michael Phelps described to USA TODAY that friends and family are “a life-saving support group.” [USAToday]


The APA also recommends finding local chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for support. [American Psychological Association]




Instead of a medical plan, some people favor alternative lifestyle choices to treat mental health issues. This includes staying active, meditation, determining priorities, and eliminating harmful habits


“If we ask for help, then we’re not this big macho athlete that people can look up to.


Well, you know what? If someone wants to call me weak for asking for help, that’s their problem. Because I’m saving my own life.”

-Michael Phelps [USAToday]

gettyimages 51271773Getty Images

Michael Phelps, most decorated Olympian of all time (28 medals)


  • Olympian DeMar DeRozan opened up about struggling with depression. [The Toronto Star]

  • Dr. Holmes continues to advocate for coaches to receive better mental health education. [The New York Times]

Key Vocabulary