The Life Within the Game: The Importance of Athlete Mental Health

The 2024 Summer Olympics are right around the corner! The exciting world of elite sports is often associated with physical prowess, unparalleled dedication, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. The world will come together to observe in awe, cheer for their favorite athletes, and be instilled with patriotic pride. We hope that fans will also take a moment to appreciate and support the lives of competitors in the games.

Recent high-profile performers, such as gymnast Simone Biles, skateboarder Rayssa Leal, and sprinter Noah Lyles, have bravely brought to light the significant challenges faced by top athletes. Their nuanced self-awareness and recognition of the ebb and flow on the mental and emotional states we all experience were critical to their safety and wellbeing. This awareness of elite amateur and Olympic athletes is crucial for optimizing their overall performance, long-term health, and wellbeing. Whether you are an athlete or a spectator, it’s important to understand the role that mental health plays in performance.

Understanding Mental Health Awareness in Sports

Mental health awareness refers to an individual’s ability to recognize their current emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It reflects a deep understanding of how we think, feel, and act, influencing how we handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions. Wellness is a holistic concept that encompasses physical, mental, and social aspects of health, aiming for a balanced and fulfilling life.

Elite amateur athletes face unique pressures that can affect their mental health awareness and wellness. The intense training schedules, high expectations to perform, and constant public scrutiny can lead to significant stress. The pressure to excel not only comes from personal ambition but also from coaches, sponsors, and fans, which can create an environment where mental health issues are more common than most may realize.

The Impact of Mental Health Practices on Performance

Prioritizing mental health practices is essential for athletes to perform at their best. When athletes are disciplined in their mental practices, they can maintain focus, manage stress effectively, and cultivate sustainable motivation. Confidence elevates and performance excels.

Conversely, poor mental discipline can severely impact an athlete, leading to decreased performance levels, increased risk of injuries, burnout, and/or early retirement. While many athletes may be able to perform at high levels during these challenges, this is often not sustainable and may have long-term detrimental impacts. To combat these challenges, mental resilience, mental skills training, positive support systems, healthy coping mechanisms, and work-life balance are all countermeasures these top-level athletes call upon to maintain mental health.

Common Mental and Emotional Challenges Among Elite Athletes

Continuous high-intensity training and competition can lead to burnout and chronic stress. Symptoms include physical and emotional exhaustion, decreased performance, and a sense of detachment from the sport.

Anxiety and Depression are among the most common mental and emotional challenges faced by elite athletes. High prevalence rates are often linked to the immense pressure to perform, fear of failure, and the struggle to balance personal and professional lives. Symptoms can include persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, and excessive worry.

Substance Abuse can be a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, pain, and performance anxiety. Unfortunately, it brings long-term consequences, including addiction and severe health problems. Athletes may turn to performance-enhancing drugs, alcohol, or other substances to manage the pressures of competition.

Athletes, particularly those in sports with a focus on appearance, weight, and body composition, may develop eating disorders. The pressure to maintain a certain body image can lead to unhealthy eating habits, negatively affecting both physical and mental health.

Strategies for Promoting Mental Health and Performance

Individual Level

Adopting self-care practices and routines that promote mental health and performance, such as mindfulness meditation, regular physical activity, and adequate rest is critical. Seeking professional help from licensed clinical psychologists or counselors is crucial when dealing with severe mental, emotional, or social challenges.

Team and Organizational Level

Creating a supportive environment within teams and organizations is essential. This can involve implementing mental health policies, providing resources, and fostering open communication about mental health. Encouraging a culture where mental health practices are prioritized can make a significant difference. Preventing and mitigating mental and emotional challenges requires recognizing the nuance of early signs and implementing strategies, often with a multidisciplinary approach.

Community and Public Level

Raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental health awareness and practices in sports is vital. The role of media and public figures in promoting mental health practices cannot be underestimated. Public campaigns and educational programs can help change perceptions and encourage athletes to seek help.

Supporting Athletes

The significance of mental health awareness for elite athletes cannot be overstated. Good mental health awareness and discipline is intrinsically linked to peak performance, overall wellbeing, and career longevity. Athletes who prioritize their mental wellbeing often perform better, as they are more likely to adopt best practices to decrease the likelihood that mental and emotional challenges become detrimental to their performances. Their high degree of self-awareness allows them to recognize early signs of mental and emotional challenges and take proactive steps to manage them. These strategies are beneficial for everyone as they go from good to great and explore the bounds of their potential.

Starting with youth sports, we can all play a role in prioritizing mental health initiatives and providing ongoing support and resources to ensure athletes can perform at their best and lead fulfilling lives.

  • Leverage and encourage the integration of technology and mental health apps to provide access to resources for athletes while reducing stigma.
  • Support the advancements in sports governance that advocate for mental health resources.
  • Act with awareness and intention. Observe, engage, and create a culture of open communication.

Encouraging a holistic approach to mental health and wellness will benefit not only the athletes but the entire sports community. As the Olympics commence, let’s commit to being fans with a purpose – appreciating and prioritizing the lives within the games!

Cultivating culture, community and connection to support BIPOC

Creating inclusive communities where Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) feel a sense of belonging and support is important to their wellbeing. Research shows individuals with strong social connections are 50% more likely to live longer and have a better chance of preventing serious illnesses like heart disease, stroke, dementia, anxiety and depression.

Here are five ways you can connect with BIPOC to cultivate culture, community and connection.           

  1. Explore the values, beliefs and traditions of diverse cultures: Exploring BIPOC articles, books, documentaries, cultural museums, languages or cuisines can cultivate respect, empathy and inclusivity.
  2. Seek authentic connections: Build meaningful BIPOC relationships by finding common ground, personally and professionally. Genuine cultural connections can emerge from supportive neighboring, discussing shared interests or embracing diverse perspectives to achieve common goals.
  3. Engage in community activities: Volunteer to support the BIPOC community by assisting at events or with organizations serving BIPOC populations.
  4. Promote services and resources that help BIPOC communities: Sharing information about services, resources and job opportunities online or through personal networks can aid BIPOC communities significantly.
  5. Support BIPOC organizations: Strengthen community ties and show commitment to BIPOC concerns by supporting BIPOC organizations. This can include buying from local BIPOC businesses, amplifying their voices on social media and advocating for BIPOC needs in civic forums.

Together, we can build a more inclusive and supportive community for all. Every action counts in fostering culture, community, connection and BIPOC wellbeing.

For more information to increase awareness about BIPOC mental health and wellbeing and the importance of recognizing and addressing concerns, visit MagellanHealthcare.com/BIPOC-MH.


Use Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to Address Your Mental Health

If you have ever reached out to a therapist or the community for mental health support, you may relate to the frustration that many individuals feel. The healthcare system is experiencing more demands for access to care, and the mental health industry is no different.

Here are some of the common obstacles to getting mental healthcare:

  1. Stigma: Fear of judgment can result in individuals choosing not to seek out help.
  2. Cost: Even with insurance coverage, deductibles have risen, and paying out of pocket is challenging for many people.
  3. Provider shortage: A shortage of mental health providers in many areas leads to longer wait times for appointments. As a result, individuals may give up on looking for a provider after one or more failed attempts.
  4. Time and transportation: Getting to and from appointments is often time-consuming, and many cannot afford to take time away from other personal or work responsibilities. In addition to scheduling conflicts, transportation challenges are also often a barrier to seeking help.
  5. Mistrust: Having or knowing someone who has had negative experiences with mental health providers (or healthcare in general) can lead to avoidant behavior.

The EAP as a Mental Health Resource

If you are a federal government employee or are employed by one of the millions of private employers who offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you are in luck. Your EAP is here to help you overcome these common obstacles by offering free, convenient, and confidential mental health support.

Magellan Federal partners with 296 federal agencies to offer a comprehensive EAP that includes short- term soluition-focused counseling services. We continuously work with our clients and providers to eliminate the barriers associated with accessing mental healthcare. We collaborate across various teams and contract agreements to provide resources and quick, reliable care. Here’s how we break down the barriers to mental healthcare.

  • Referrals are always voluntary and confidential, easing the stigma and fear of coming forward for help.
  • EAP provides free counseling sessions with no co-pay or deductible.
  • Many EAPs offer a variety of virtual counseling options, which reduce delays in appointment scheduling.
  • Employees can often schedule directly with an EAP provider at their convenience, either via the website’s online scheduling links or through a find-help function .
  • The Magellan Federal EAP call center answers calls in less than 30 seconds, eliminating the frustration of being transferred or put on hold.
  • The call center is staffed with clinical experts who remove any guesswork and connect the caller with appropriate referrals and resources.
  • The employer EAP website provides current information and provides reliable resources.
  • When requested by a manager, health and wellness presentations are readily available to promote self-awareness and self-care and introduce individuals to available services.
  • Virtual counseling sessions reduce transportation and scheduling conflicts. This modality can also decrease the stigma some people may feel if seen walking into a counselor’s office.
  • EAP services often promote coping skills, resiliency, and resource use. These skills may lessen or prevent a mental health crisis in the future.

The Magellan Federal EAP eliminates common challenges associated with accessing mental health support and continues to implement new operations that improve care. Consider using your EAP as an alternative to paying out of pocket for quality mental health services. Your well-being—and wallet—will thank you!


Enhancing Soldier Wellness and Performance

As our understanding of soldier wellness evolves, it’s clear that a comprehensive approach is essential. In today’s military landscape, physical fitness alone isn’t enough – mental toughness is equally crucial. The U.S. Army Combatives Program serves as a prime platform to nurture this mental resilience, offering Soldiers a pathway to peak performance both on and off the battlefield.

The U.S. Army Combatives Program, which includes hand-to-hand combat training, offers a valuable avenue to promote mental well-being and overall performance among soldiers. Beyond its traditional role in honing physical combat skills, this program has evolved to encompass a broader mission – one that emphasizes the cultivation of mental resilience as a cornerstone of soldier effectiveness.

Building Mental Resilience

The benefit of combat sports is that they cultivate mental toughness like no other. Soldiers are pushed to their limits, not just physically but mentally, fostering adaptability, perseverance, and a steadfast attitude in the face of adversity. Studies, such as those published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, underscore combat sports’ profound impact on enhancing mental toughness – a cornerstone of soldier effectiveness in high-stress environments.

Fostering Unity within Units

Engaging in combat sports brings Soldiers together uniquely and intensely. It strengthens team members’ bonds, trust, and camaraderie, enhancing unit cohesion and morale. A 2020 study in the Journal of Military, Veteran, and Family Health found that Soldiers who participated in combatives training reported higher levels of cohesion and teamwork – vital components for mission success.

Providing an Outlet for Frustration and Stress

The rigors of military life often lead to pent-up frustration and stress. The Combatives Program provides Soldiers with a constructive outlet to channel these emotions. By engaging in controlled physical exertion, soldiers can mitigate stress and avoid detrimental coping mechanisms. Studies, such as those in the Journal of Military Psychology, affirm the therapeutic benefits of combat sports in stress management among military personnel.

Integration of Mental Performance Consultants

To unlock the full potential of combative training, the integration of mental performance consultants is paramount. Thes specialists offer soldiers cognitive tools and strategies to optimize their performance in combat and everyday life. From stress management to enhancing focus and resilience, mental performance consultants provide a holistic approach to soldier wellness.

Improving Decision-Making Under Stress

In high-stakes scenarios, split-second decisions can mean the difference between success and failure. Research in Military Psychology underscores how combat sports improve decision-making under stress. Mental performance consultants further refine this skill, equipping soldiers with the mental fortitude to think critically and act decisively in the heat of battle.

Enhancing Recovery and Resilience

Injuries and setbacks are a part of military life, and mental resilience is crucial for recovery. Mental performance consultants can guide soldiers in maintaining a positive mindset during rehabilitation, reducing the psychological impact of injuries, and facilitating a quicker return to peak performance. The U.S. Army Combatives Program offers a wealth of mental benefits essential for Soldier wellness and performance. By fostering mental toughness, unit cohesion, and stress management, this program contributes significantly to Soldier readiness.

Youth Mental Health: Five Tips to Support Young Minds

Mental health plays an important role in the overall wellbeing of youth. Child behaviors and emotions can change frequently and rapidly, making it difficult for parents and teachers to detect mental, behavioral or emotional concerns right away. Studies find an estimated 70-80% of children with mental health disorders go without care.

How can you nurture the mental health of your child?

Consider the following strategies to support your child’s mental wellbeing:

  1. Be intentional and attuned. Beyond just paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, actively engage in open communication with your child. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions. Additionally, educate yourself about typical developmental stages and common mental health concerns in youth, so you can better identify when your child might need support.
  2. Foster closeness. Building a strong emotional bond with your child involves not only empathy but also active listening and validation of their experiences. Spend quality time together engaging in activities they enjoy and show genuine interest in their hobbies and concerns. By demonstrating unconditional love and acceptance, you’re fostering an environment where they feel valued and understood.
  3. Encourage connections. In addition to nurturing relationships within the family, encourage your child to form connections with peers and mentors. Support their participation in extracurricular activities or community events where they can develop social skills and a sense of belonging. Positive social interactions provide a buffer against stress and can enhance resilience in the face of challenges.
  4. Model good behavior. As a parent or caregiver, your actions speak louder than words. Model healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress and emotions, such as practicing mindfulness, seeking support from loved ones, and engaging in hobbies or relaxation techniques. By demonstrating how to navigate difficult situations effectively, you’re equipping your child with valuable tools for their own emotional wellbeing.
  5. Make healthy choices. Emphasize the importance of self-care and overall wellness by prioritizing healthy habits as a family. Maintain a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limit sugary or processed foods. Encourage regular physical activity and outdoor play, as exercise is linked to improved mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Establish consistent bedtime routines to ensure adequate sleep, as insufficient rest can exacerbate mental health concerns.

Youth mental health concerns are real, common and treatable. By implementing these strategies, you’re not only fostering a supportive environment for your child’s mental health but also empowering them with the skills and resources needed to navigate life’s challenges effectively.

While some problems are short-lived and don’t need treatment, others are ongoing and may be very serious. If you are concerned about changes in behavior or other symptoms, consult your child’s doctor. Remember, seeking professional help when needed is a sign of strength, and early intervention can make a significant difference in managing mental health concerns.

Visit MagellanHealthcare.com/about/bh-resources for more mental health information and resources.


DocTalk: Discussing Workplace Violence Awareness Month & Mental Health with Dr. Yasmeen Benjamin

April is recognized as Workplace Violence Awareness Month. Forbes recently published an article entitled, “Workplace Safety And Well-Being On The Decline In 2024, Study Shows.” The article highlighted findings from a new report from the company, Traliant, Fear Factors: A 2024 Employee Survey Report on Workplace Violence, Harassment and Mental Health. According to the report:

  • 1 in 4 people interviewed stated they have witnessed workplace violence happening to another employee in the last five years,
  • 12% said they had been the target of workplace violence themselves.
  • 86% said they either strongly or somewhat agree that employers need to do more to address the mental health needs of employees in the workplace.

In this Q&A, Magellan Healthcare’s Psychologist Advisor Dr. Yasmeen Benjamin provides insights on the connection between workplace violence and mental health awareness and suggestions on how employers can build a culture of safety.

Q: How does workplace violence awareness intersect with mental health awareness in the workplace?

Dr. Yasmeen Benjamin: A sense of safety is considered a basic human need in order for us to thrive in our daily lives. Given that we spend the majority of our time in the work environment, work environments must value safety, establish a set of expectations and policies around safety, and consistently reinforce these policies in order to provide a sense of safety for its workers.

Q: How can workplaces create a culture of safety and prevention to mitigate the risk of violence in the workplace?

Dr. Benjamin: The culture of safety should be imbedded within the values of the organization, as our actions tend to follow our value system.

Examples of safety-specific actions that would follow this value system are:

  • Trainings
  • Having ongoing discussions about the importance of building a culture of safety
  • Directly and publicly addressing issues of workplace violence when they occur

Additionally, I’m a huge believer that prevention starts with an ability to assess. What is the propensity for violence given individual, social, and environmental factors? Are trends changing and how does one adjust and become more informed as a result of the trends?

Q: What are some common mental health challenges that employees may face as a result of workplace violence or other workplace stressors?

Dr. Benjamin: When safety is lacking, we can see an increase in stress, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and job dissatisfaction (in the form of absenteeism, tardiness, and high turnover rates). In the instance of workplace violence, people can go on to develop conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder as well as other conditions. It is important to note that all of these symptoms and conditions are treatable with the right supports, resources, and interventions. It is also important to keep in mind, that generally speaking, the longer one is exposed to stressors, the longer symptoms can persist once the stressor is removed.

Q: What resources and support services should employers provide to promote mental well-being among employees?

Dr. Benjamin: It is important that we continue to take steps to make discussions surrounding mental health less taboo while respecting individual privacy. I highly suggest employees utilize insurance resources to access the mental healthcare that is available to them. Also, consider accessing wellness resources such as gym membership discounts and meditation/mindfulness app discounts. As best as we can (with a recognition that life can be extremely busy) it’s important to build and maintain healthy self-care habits. These types of habits can be instrumental when combating work-related and life-related stressors.

Q: Are there specific strategies or initiatives that employers can implement during Workplace Violence Awareness Month to promote mental health awareness and support?

Dr. Benjamin: Bringing attention to the topic is an important start. Hopefully, articles like this spark the type of assessment that I mentioned earlier and lead readers to include a personal assessment of their own mental health status and wellness practices.

Tips for Counseling Success with Military Children: Q&A with Paul Taraborelli LICSW, IMH-E®

With approximately 1.7 million dependent military children across all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, experts who support military children must understand the unique experiences and diverse needs that require a specialized counseling approach.

This topic will be the focus of the upcoming Magellan Federal webinar on Thursday, May 16, “Connecting with Military Children: Counseling Techniques for Success.” Expert panelists for this webinar will include:

  • Keionna Baker, LPC, LMHC, LCMHC, clinical project manager, Military & Family Life Counseling Program
  • Paul Taraborelli LICSW, IMH-E®, child youth behavioral director, Military & Family Life Counseling Program
  • Susan Trotman, LCSW, regional supervisor, Military & Family Life Counseling Program

The webinar will focus on trends, concerns, and intervention techniques that create a sense of connectedness and belonging for military-connected children and youth. To attend, register here.

In this Q&A, expert panelist Paul Taraborelli LICSW, IMH-E® shares a preview of information that will be shared in the webinar and why it is critical for counselors and other professionals who work with military children to invest time into enhancing their skills by attending.

Q: What are some key challenges that military children commonly face?

Paul Taraborelli: There are more than 1.7 million military children who face many challenges and unique experiences because of their parents’ service. Military families move on average every two to three years, impacting military children through changing schools and support networks. Military families often experience changes in parents’ access in terms of regular face-to-face contact, changes in caregivers, and changes in family routines due to a military parent being called away from their family to serve and support their mission. To manage these changes during their overall growth and development as a child, military children often rely on resilience skills they develop over time. By acknowledging and celebrating the many unique aspects of military culture and being a military-connected child, we can help these children be equipped to emotionally adjust to challenges throughout their lives.

Q: How do these challenges impact their emotional well-being?

Taraborelli: Due to changes in locations, fluctuations in daily schedules and routines, and the temporary absence of a primary caregiver/parent can lead to short-term and possibly long-term effects on a child’s overall wellbeing and the development of age appropriate social emotional skills.

Q: What are ways that counselors can help military children navigate these transitions and build resilience?


Focus topics when working with military children to support and enhance social emotion skill development and reduce stress, including:

  • Resiliency skill-building
  • Development and use of age-appropriate problem-solving skills
  • Development of healthy relationships skill building, including ways to express and manage their emotions

Q: What are some common misconceptions or stereotypes about military children, and how can counselors work to challenge and overcome these misconceptions?

Taraborelli: A common misconception is that military children are used to moving a lot, changing schools, making new friends, and can adjust easily to changes in their lives. Counselors can engage military children in conversations about how they are coping with and adjusting to these changes both in the past and presently. Counselors can explore, identify, and develop age-appropriate coping skills while working with military-connected children. If possible, provide opportunities for peer support through group meetings and activities with other military-connected peers.

Another misconception is that due to attending different schools in different locations, military children are not as academically prepared as their nonmilitary peers. Counselors can explore with military children their learning journey and what they have learned both academically and outside of school during their life as a military child. Counselors can focus on, celebrate, and acknowledge the experiences they have had compared to their nonmilitary peers and how those experiences contribute to their overall sense of self and the skills they have developed academically, socially, and emotionally.

Q: Lastly, what advice would you give to counselors who are looking to enhance their skills and effectiveness in working with military children and their families?

Taraborelli: Make a conscious effort to better understand the unique aspects of military culture and what military children experience in their lives as military children. Use this knowledge to provide additional information and insight when assessing presenting issues or concerns a military child may be facing and develop tailored goals for counseling and support for the child.

Making Financial Education Part of Your Self-Care Routine

The 24-hour news cycle keeps us informed of the imbalances and inequities experienced all over the world. This struggle never ceases, and we ponder what is within our reach of assistance and understanding. Educating oneself is a helpful way to make sense of the world and lessen anxiety around the unknown. Here is why managing your money should be at the top of your list when practicing self-care.

Financial Illiteracy Is Common

People often forgo financial self-care for other forms of self-care due to vast financial illiteracy. Individuals are often provided little financial education in their formative years, and unfortunately, our collective ignorance is often profitable for the financial industry. For example, the negative equity created when a young servicemember purchases their first car (a depreciating asset) at 22% interest, will take years to “right” itself through rolling negative equity into future car purchases and paying exorbitant interest amounts. This represents money that misses opportunities to grow through compound interest to one day support a comfortable retirement, a home renovation, or a two-week trip abroad. When making any large purchase, it can quite literally pay to educate yourself with financing options.

The Cost of Financial Illiteracy

Going to college does not guarantee a high-paying career anymore and many are living through the strain of years of crushing student loan debt that can extend into their elderly years. College debt, on a surface level, represents a missed investment opportunity. While the argument can be made that you are investing in your future and your career, it often still represents at least a decade of money not being invested on that person’s behalf. That is not to say that investing in a higher education is not a smart career move, it is just something that you should educate yourself on to make an informed decision before potentially committing to decades of debt.

Our finances are a symptom and not a cause or effect. The effects of financial illiteracy are crushing debt loads, insolvency, and stress, which can result in ensuing health challenges.

Getting Started on Your Path to Financial Literacy

As a Personal Financial Counselor (PFC) providing financial counseling and advice to military families for more than 15 years, I have provided guidance to hundreds  of individuals to achieve their financial goals and maintain their financial well-being. This often involves completing a thorough spending plan which includes budgeting for items such as supplementing income, eating out, supporting lifestyle habits, entertainment, and even leaving room for the occasional indulgence (manicures/pedicures). You can do this yourself by:

  1. Make a list of essential expenses—food, housing, childcare, etc. This will provide great insight into your values and help you prioritize what is non-negotiable.
  2. Start small—be mindful that change takes time. Identify 1-2 items that you are willing to cut out of your spending habits by consolidating the non-essentials. Make a note of the impact on your savings. Then adjust more the following month. Change that is too much too fast can negatively impact long-term success.
  3. Stay motivated—remember that financial wellness is a part of your overall self-care. Understand that staying interested in and educating yourself on your finances is a long-term investment in your personal (and family’s) well-being.

Free Financial Resources for Military Service Members

If you are a military Service member, you are in luck. You have access to Personal Financial Counselors (PFC) and Military and Family Life Counselors (MFLCs) who can help you get started on your path to financial wellness today. The Financial Readiness PFC Locator Map can assist with finding the financial counselor nearest you in both CONUS and OCONUS locations. Visit Military OneSource to find an MFLC near you.