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Mental Health: It Should Not Only Be Up To Them.
Awareness is growing, but providing help only when asked is missing a big step in support.
I have been wanting to dig into the topic of mental health as it pertains to youth sport for some time. Addressing the topic in a constructive way can be done from multiple perspectives. A few of the articles here have done exactly that.
Youth sport supporting the developmental journey was one angle presented slightly over a year ago in January 2021.
However, the prevailing feeling on this end was one of only picking at the edges of the topic.
In the last week we had the annual unofficial Mental Health Awareness Day. Let’s Talk is an awareness campaign created by the Canadian telecommunications company, Bell Canada, in an effort to raise awareness and combat stigma surrounding mental illness. While this initiative is beneficial in promoting awareness around mental health, one can’t help but notice that the stories shared are very individualized and that misses an important perspective.
Youth sport and society in general have been swept up in systemic and social factors that significantly influence our mental health. These factors shape our experiences and put us all in situations that were not fathomable years ago. We don’t have to look very far for examples, the pandemic and its tidal wave of repercussions have affected us all. But there are deeper roots to the causes of mental health concerns. These deeper roots lie in society issues and require collective strategies rather than just an individual asking for help.
Supporting mental illness by placing the onus solely on the individual is a missed step towards easing its burden. Without necessarily noticing, we have left it up to the individual to resolve while the causes are societal in nature.
If you have watched the sports news in the last week for example, we have seen 3 instances of racial slurs in the hockey world. The effects of incidents like these on health over time are long lasting, according to doctors, and many carry them for a lifetime. Does this become the individual’s initiative to overcome and address?
Which brings us to the concept of “overcoming” mental health challenges. Is it then a journey of self-discovery and expression of the individual that is the recipe to better health? Can more be offered from a collective perspective?
The focus here is youth sport. If we support putting the onus on the collective, that means organizational standards proactively supporting mental health. It means re-training our perspective to proactively put things in place that ensure our language and our behavior deliver support BEFORE being asked.
Let’s explore examples on how this can be applied:
· The National Football League have implemented a support system that integrates mental into the overall health care provided to their athletes.
The NFL are not leaders by any means (colleges and universities have been implementing to various degrees on campus for years), but they are taking measures to standardize care proactively.
Christopher Carr, is the Green Bay Packers’ director of sports psychology and behavioral technician. He teaches courses on mental performance, consults with players’ position groups and meets with them individually, recommends educational programming for players’ iPads and coordinates external resources. Carr stands with the team on the sidelines at games, and he’s in the Packers’ facility every day that the team is. “There’s all kinds of touch points,” he said. “Being in the culture creates open doors to be integrated and helps develop trust.”
· While athletes have hired skills coaches for years, they are now including mindset coaches as part of their support structure. In some cases, a mindset coach has the task of initiating and providing opportunity for regular check-ins and monitors the impact of life and sport stressors on the athlete.
· One in three college students live with mental health issues, according to Athletes for Hope. Of the college students living with mental issues, it is believed that about 30% seek help, whereas only 10% of college athletes who are dealing with a mental health issue are believed to seek help. Matthew Seitz, former student athlete, started a private practice in 2019 specializing in working with athletes, from high school to Olympic levels. Seitz says good mental health is essential to an athlete’s success. “When coach is benching me, when I am not running well, when I am injured, that totally effects mental health off the field and the court no question about it,” Seitz said.
Dealing with injury, stressed about studies and playing time are all part of the outside pressure that student athletes need to balance.
Seitz’ practice is an example of a proactive resource available to college student athletes that normalizes discussion and support.
While the critic may say that the above examples are all in place for elite athletes and those that can afford, we all should be looking at pre-emptive solutions. Instead of leaving to the young athlete to speak up as the only strategy, making support to all available casts a wider more effective net.
In addition, promoting good physical health practices provides a wider foundation.
· Good nutrition.
· Regular exercise.
· Good sleep.
These are foundational principles that get repeated a lot but are linked to positive mental and physical health.
More and more studies are emerging on the benefits for strength training for example.
Lindsey Brooke Hopkins, a psychologist in Oakland, California, who studies the effect of exercise on mental health, says it’s likely a combination of changes in both biology and psychology. In addition, she says, weight training helps you learn to “endure the physical and emotional discomfort” that comes with pushing hard, which Hopkins says is actually congruent with the goals of clinical approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy.
Two recent studies support the need for all youth organizations to support strength training as part of the sporting experience.
The first, published in 2017 in the journal Sports Medicine, found that lifting weights reduces the symptoms of anxiety. The second, published in May of 2018 in JAMA Psychiatry, found that lifting weights can help ease and even prevent depression.
It is now time for this to become the norm, and not rely on the individual to initiate the discussion or 1 day year in to promote awareness.
The Modern Day Mindset Coach: