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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!




Four Tips to Improve Mental Health During BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month

July’s BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month is an observance dedicated to raising awareness about the unique mental health challenges faced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. This month emphasizes the importance of culturally competent mental health care and aims to address the disparities in mental health services and outcomes among these communities.

In this Q&A, Magellan Health’s Eric A. Williams, Ph.D., LCMHCS, LMFT, LPC, and Stephanie White, LMFT, regional supervisors for the Military and Family Life Counselor program, share four ways BIPOC can improve their mental health.

Q: What advice would you give to BIPOC individuals seeking to improve their mental health and well-being?

Dr. Eric Williams:

#1 Prioritize Self-Care

How you treat yourself reflects your relationship with yourself. This includes your diet, sleep hygiene, social support system, and spirituality. Here are a few strategies to prioritize your self-care:

  • Body: Get regular medical and dental check-ups. Engage in regular physical activity, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep. Lastly, take prescription medications as prescribed.
  • Mind: Ensure a healthy balance of mass media, social media, and other uplifting sources of information. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your social media accounts, but it does mean you emphasize being exposed to information that supports your mental well-being. This could include practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing, reading, learning a new skill, or spending time in nature.
  • Spirit: Consider establishing a personal vision reflective of your values and purpose in life. Spend time with loved ones, practice gratitude, and engage in activities that nourish your sense of meaning.

#2 Build Strong Connections with Family and Friends

Strong social connections are essential for mental well-being.

  • Nurture existing relationships: Intentionally create time for friends and family who support you and make you feel good. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with people who drain your energy or contribute to negativity in your life.
  • Expand your social circle: Join clubs, or sports leagues (i.e., bowling, softball, etc.), volunteer in community organizations to include church and other non-profit organizations, or take classes to connect with people who share your interests.

#3 Seek Professional Help if Needed

You may experience racial discrimination, stresses and microaggressions, which can influence your emotional well-being in ways these tips may not address. Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if you’re struggling. Finding a therapist or counselor who understands your cultural background is important. Look for therapists who identify as BIPOC themselves or have experience working with BIPOC communities.

Stephanie White:

#4 Practice Self-Affirming Habits for Adults and Children

I highly recommend a personal habit of affirming your color and appearance through meditation and self-care. Take good care of your coils and strands, your health, and your heart. For our youth, I also recommend that we embrace and build a collection of literature that is directed toward children of color, celebrating their uniqueness as well as their belonging.

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!


Resources




Spotlight Magellan Health: World Schizophrenia Awareness Day is May 24!

World Schizophrenia Awareness Day is a vital reminder of the profound impact this complex mental health condition has on individuals and families worldwide. This day offers a platform to challenge stigmas, dispel myths, and advocate for greater understanding and support for those affected by schizophrenia. By acknowledging World Schizophrenia Awareness Day, we’re highlighting the need for improved access to mental health resources and service and taking a crucial step towards fostering inclusive communities and promoting mental well-being. Magellan Health’s Lyle Forehand, MD, is board certified in psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. Dr. Forehand shares his thoughts on the importance of recognizing World Schizophrenia Day, and what available resources there are to support the mental health of individuals living with schizophrenia.

What is some information about schizophrenia that people may not know?

Schizophrenia is a very serious, lifelong condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. It shows up differently in different people, but it is almost always associated with decreased insight into what is, or is not, real. Usually starting between ages 16 and 30-years-old, individuals tend to respond better to earlier treatment. However, people who suffer with these symptoms are often very unwilling to share their scary, and often bizarre, experiences with others. That slows down, or even prevents, getting treatment. Many also have a neurological condition called anosognosia, that blocks their ability to know they are ill or need treatment.

Why is it important to recognize World Schizophrenia Day?

World Schizophrenia Awareness Day is celebrated every May 24th, in honor of the day in 1792 that Dr. Phillipe Pinel started releasing psychiatric patients from the chains that bound them at the Bicệtre Hospital outside Paris.  Many of his patients had been chained for 30 – 40 years!  Our hope, in recognizing this day, is that the stigma of schizophrenia (and of mental disorders in general) will lessen. More people will be able to live with dignity and with access to the same level of care as individuals without schizophrenia.

What are some available resources for individuals with schizophrenia?

Information is helpful in managing most difficulties. For schizophrenia, which is often quite scary to those who suffer from the condition and to those who love them, this is even more important.  NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has been a source of information and support since 1979.  The Treatment Advocacy Center, founded in 1998, has been controversial because of its advocacy for forced treatment of some people with schizophrenia, but it remains a great information resource as well as a vigorous advocate of legal changes that could enhance treatment.

Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment.  That treatment should include some amount of medication.  Not all psychiatrists are comfortable prescribing these medicines, but many are willing to work with schizophrenic patients until a regimen can be found that works well for them.  These regimens often change over time, or in response to fluctuations in stress, or symptoms, or both.  A good relationship with a consistent provider is very important.  A relationship with a full-service team is even better.  This team can provide some combination of psychotherapy, social skills training, vocational rehabilitation, supported housing, and supported employment.

What are some ways that individuals with schizophrenia can take care of their mental health while navigating this condition?

Just as everyone else does, people with schizophrenia have some amount of stress (not just from their disorder!) and some amount of resilience (the ability to “bounce back” from difficulties).  Resilience is a skill that all of us can improve. The four steps are: making positive lifestyle choices, forming positive social relationships, having a sense of meaning and/or purpose, and the practice of mindfulness/meditation (even just three minutes a day).




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.


Source




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.




Embracing Neurodiversity: Dispelling myths and fostering inclusive, thriving environments

What is neurodiversity?

 Everyone’s brain is different and develops in its own way. Neurodiversity refers to diversity in the ways in which people experience the world, be it at school, at work or in social settings. Neurotypical individuals’ brain functions are considered “usual” or “expected by society.”

Understanding neurodivergence

Individuals naturally approach thinking in various ways. Neurodivergent individuals’ brains are unique and their behaviors or responses differ from what is expected socially, physically or verbally. Approximately 15-20% of the population is neurodivergent. Some of the most prevalent conditions among individuals who identify as neurodivergent are:

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Down syndrome
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Social anxiety
  •  Tourette syndrome
  • Williams syndrome

Myths and facts about neurodiversity

 Understanding neurodiversity and the specific challenges neurodivergent individuals face is crucial for creating inclusive and supportive environments. By educating ourselves, we can dismantle stereotypes and stigmas that inadvertently affect others.

Myth: Neurodiversity is the same as ASD.

Fact: Neurodiversity includes ASD, as well as other neurological conditions, such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, intellectual disabilities, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD) and other mental health conditions.

Myth: All neurodiverse individuals are the same/similar.

 Fact: All individuals, whether neurotypical or neurodiverse, are unique in their learning and experiences. Recognizing the diversity within neurodiverse individuals is key to developing inclusive environments.

Myth: Neurodivergent individuals lack communication skills. 

Fact: Like neurotypical individuals, neurodivergent individuals have diverse communication styles. Many communicate effectively in their own unique ways. Tailoring communication strategies to diverse styles fosters inclusivity and supports personal growth.

Myth: Neurodivergent individuals choose not to engage in forming relationships.

Fact: Many neurodivergent individuals genuinely desire connections with others but often feel sadness or a sense of isolation when faced with difficulties in forming those connections. Nonetheless, they can have authentic, enduring relationships, particularly when others are accepting and mindful of their differences.

Myth: Neurodivergent individuals have little chance of succeeding in school, at work or in their communities.

Fact: With equitable opportunities and tools, neurodivergent individuals can be just as successful as others.

Famous neurodivergent personalities

 Many well-known individuals are neurodivergent and have made extraordinary contributions to our world.

  • Benjamin Banneker—Self-taught African American mathematician, astronomer and inventor who was appointed by President George Washington to assist in the surveying and planning of Washington, DC
  • Simone Biles—African-American gymnast who has won numerous Olympic and World Championship medals and is considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time
  • Tim Burton—American filmmaker, artist, writer and animator known for his unique and imaginative film style, including “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
  • Lewis Carroll— English writer, mathematician and photographer who is best known for his literary works, particularly “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”
  • Bill Gates—Co-founder of Microsoft and a leading figure in the development of personal computing
  • Thomas Jefferson—One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and third president of the United States
  • Michaelangelo—Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect and poet who is renowned for masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the statue of David
  • Nikola Tesla—A Serbian-American inventor who made significant contributions to the development of alternating current (AC) electrical systems and other inventions
  • Emma Watson—English actor and model known for her role as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” film series and being an advocate for women’s rights

Neurodiversity involves acknowledging and valuing the diverse ways our brains work. Neurodivergent individuals experience, interact with and interpret the world in distinctive ways. When we appreciate and celebrate neurodiversity, we cultivate inclusive communities that allow neurodivergent individuals to thrive.

 How can I learn more about neurodiversity and neurodivergence?

Find more information and helpful resources at MagellanHealthcare.com/Autism-Resources, including online and tech-enabled resources to help neurodivergent individuals navigate daily life and empower parents, families and caregivers to support children on their journeys.


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Five Ways to Survive ‘Sports Fan Depression’

The National Football League’s 58th Annual Super Bowl ended with a winning team and fans who might be recovering from a tough season. Whether you’re an athlete or a fan watching sporting events in person or at home, the competitive nature of sports can be both exhilarating and heart-wrenching. However, what happens when the passion felt for the game triggers emotions such as sadness or depression? In this interview with Magellan Federal’s Performance Coaching Manager Meg Helf, M.S., CMPC®, we explore the concept known as “sports fan depression.”

What is Sports Fan Depression and is it a real diagnosis?

Meg Helf: Although Sports Fan Depression is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), many of us are all too familiar with the emotional rollercoaster that comes along with being a fan. Reactions to any number of life events can linger and develop into diagnosable depression, prolonged grief disorder, or an adjustment disorder with depressed mood. Just as we experience grief with the loss of a relationship or a loved one, a job or an opportunity, we may experience grief at the end of a season or when our favorite team comes up short.

For sports fans, acute grief is that initial intense feeling after a loss takes place. This may manifest in a range of complex feelings such as sadness, anger, frustration, and disappointment, which often isn’t discussed in the context of sport. When this grief is experienced for extended periods of time and starts to impact our daily functioning (e.g., work, eating habits, sleep, relationships), we might be experiencing what many call Sports Fan Depression.

What is it about sports that can trigger this feeling?

Helf: There are several reasons that sports can trigger these feelings. Fans make emotional, psychological, physical, and sometimes financial investments in their teams. There are a plethora of ways that sports can impact our wellbeing: sports can be integral to one’s identity, sports can drive our daily activities, and, sports have the ability to create communities and develop relationships.

The more someone identifies with their team the stronger they may feel loss about the outcome of the game or result of the season. These events can feel like a blow to our personal identity when we have a sense of pride and belonging. Despite superstitions and lucky shirts, socks, and routines, fans have a lack of influence and impact on the outcome of the game. This may set many up with unrealistic expectations and add a sense of helplessness. A player on the field has the ability to distinguish what went well, identify what they and the team need to develop, and maintain a future focused growth mindset regardless of the outcome. With less control, it is understandable that fans struggle with optimism because they cannot take any action to make the desired change.

For some, being a fan is a part-time (or full-time!) job. Between watching games, competing in fantasy leagues, and researching statistics, our daily lives are filled with something that we are passionate about. Similarly to how some marathon runners experience the “post-race blues,” when a season is over, we may feel a loss for all the time we invested and feel like a large part of our daily excitement and activities are missing. As the season comes to a close, that taste of the adrenaline, tension, energy and anticipation of each game fades and may leave us wanting.

Fans also rarely go it alone. Our favorite team has the ability to connect people, both friends and strangers alike. Fans connect across time zones for draft parties and engage in banter through fantasy leagues, spend hours tailgating before a game, and gather for watch parties. Families strengthen bonds, adorning newborns in gear and creating traditions. Strangers high-five. They hug. They share food, drinks and handwarmers. Even opposing fans engage in playful banter and share stories. Entire cities come together to support their team. We win together. We lose together. And when the season is over, we are losing these opportunities for such a meaningful part of life – connection to others.

How can someone identify if they suffer from this condition?

Helf: A couple of symptoms experienced with depression are diminished interest or pleasure in activities, depressed mood, significant unintentional weight gain or loss, insomnia or sleeping too much, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, and diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness. Prolonged grief symptoms are intense emotional pain, loss of identity, difficulty moving on with life, emotional numbness, feeling that life is meaningless, and intense loneliness.

Individuals should build self-awareness about the intensity and duration of their symptoms, and the impact they have on their daily lives. Tap into your thoughts. Are they pervasive? Is the loss of the game bleeding over to other areas of your life? Be purposeful with your next steps and be on the alert for destructive or non-productive patterns that may not help you (e.g., alcohol, adrenaline/thrill seeking, substance abuse, risk-taking).

What are steps someone should take if they believe they have Sports Fan Depression?

Helf:

  • Make some intentional time to mourn the loss and build self-awareness of when intrusive thoughts creep in so you can shift to more productive, optimistic style thinking.
  • Expand your identity – who are you outside of being a loyal, avid fan?
  • Develop and maintain healthy habits – make time to move your body, prioritize healthy eating, hydration, and sleep. These habits are always crucial, but especially helpful for individuals who are struggling.
  • Cultivate connections with others – reconnect with your fellow fans in a different context and develop new communities. Diversify your portfolio on interests and discover activities that generate positive emotions and engagement.
  • Unplug from your fandom. Clear your head and provide an opportunity to get a little emotional distance from the season. Taking time for yourself will sow benefits for you and those around you. If the post-season funk stays around for longer than 2-4 weeks, find a professional to talk to or take a depression screen.

It’s important to understand that it is perfectly natural to have emotional highs and lows when you are so connected and invested with a specific sports team. Just because you experience some grief, sadness, or disappointment does not mean you have depression. It is typical to have reactions when any season changes and normal to reset your compass.

Perhaps consider why you watch sports in the first place. Is it the appreciation of athletic prowess? The comradery and connection with others? Pride in your town? Understanding what is most important to you can help you squeeze every ounce of enjoyment and excitement out of the game, while arming you with strategies to cultivate your wellbeing.

For more information on depression screenings and tips on wellness, please check out: The Journey to Wellness: Do I need a Depression Screening?

And remember…there is always next season!


Resources

Online screens and helplines: 

  • Anxiety & Depression Association of America: (1)
  • The Reach Institute (2)
  • Mental Health America (16)
  • Veteran’s Administration (17)
  • SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357
  • NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-6264