Sports psychiatry, a relatively new subspecialty in the psychiatry field, emphasizes treating mental illness in athletes. The mental illness may be brought on by sports, by the use of steroids or by stressors related to the sport the athlete plays. While enhancing the athlete’s performance is not a goal of sports psychiatry, it may produce that outcome.
Athletes of all ages, from Little League to NFL football starts, are vulnerable to psychiatric disorders. Athletes are subject to certain stressors that can cause, trigger or worsen psychopathy. These include pressure to win, constant risk of injury and the feeling of wondering what they will do when they can no longer play sports. And this doesn’t just happen to professional athletes. Parents and coaches pursuing vicarious aspirations may push a child athlete to physical and emotional extremes, causing severe mental anguish. Even if parents and coaches aren’t overly aggressive, child athletes can put intense pressure on themselves.
If your young child or high school athlete is showing signs of a mental disorder or seems extremely stressed and agitated, find a Newport Beach child psychiatrist who specializes in sports therapy. An evaluation can determine what kind of help your child can benefit from. In the meantime, here are a few tips to help keep your child athlete happy and free from anxiety:
- Lower your expectations. While it’s natural to want your child to be the best athlete he or she can be, setting your expectations too high will make your child feel pressured. Be encouraging, but be supportive. Nobody is perfect.
- Watch what you say. Comments like “You should go 4 for 4 at the plate against that pitcher today” might seem supportive, but they can do more harm than good. Many athletes would feel pressured by a statement like that.
- Focus on the process, not the results. Playing sports is about learning lessons and working with a team. If you focus on the process, your child will be less likely to feel pressured to win.
Sometimes, no matter what you say or how encouraging you are, your child will need sports psychiatry. This is not a reflection on your parenting or coaching, but it still needs to be addressed. Once your child has worked with the psychiatrist, he or she will be able to better process the emotions that come with sports.
Injuries that threaten an adult athlete’s career can also be a major source of stress. One arm surgery or knee injury can set an athlete back substantially or end a career. This can lead to mental anguish and underlying mental disorders. The use of sports therapy can help the athlete come to terms with the future and accept whatever will be.
Here are the mental disorders most common in athletes:
- Depression (brought on by feelings of inadequacy)
- Anxiety (about winning and performing well, and about the future)
- Bipolar disorder (stressors in athletes’ lives can trigger manic episodes)
- Anorexia nervosa and bulimia (seen most often in gymnasts)
- ADHD (people with ADHD are more likely to find sports therapeutic)
So how does sports psychiatry work to help these athletes?
The primary function of a sports psychiatrist is to help them effectively manage dysfunctional relationships, inner turmoil, family conflicts and career-related problems as well as deal with underlying mental conditions. In other words, a sports psychiatrist works with them to help improve mental health. The secondary function is to help athletes work through aggressive behaviors and the issues that result since athletes tend to exhibit higher levels of aggression and risky behaviors.
Sports psychiatry utilizes the systematic approach to treatment by exploring outside influences (like coaches, significant others and trainers) and how they affect athletic performance. Once the issues and stressors have been identified, an effective treatment can be determined. This typically involves behavioral therapy and establishing new thought patterns. In certain cases, such as situations where extreme anxiety or issues like bipolar disorder are present, medication may be necessary to help.
In addition, sports psychiatrists will concentrate on psychological issues related to a particular sport if applicable, such as brain damage from a head injury or the use of drugs. Treatment may consist of a combination of behavioral therapy, group therapy, medication and outside treatments such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Athletes face a great pressure in our society. They are sometimes seen as superhuman, being expected to win every game they play and perform well. But they are just regular people who happen to have athletic talent. They need to be treated as such, and if friends or loved ones notice their strange behavior, they need to reach out and offer their support. Sports psychiatry is a niche that took root many years ago, but now that athletes are being more open and honest about their struggles, it is a field that has really grown.