Athletes with Mental Illness

WHAT’s happening in the mind of an athlete?

 

 

ask yourself “Have I had these thoughts?”

I’m an Athlete and I’m Not Okay

Athletes are Perfect Human Beings Right?

Can you Spell Athlete without Mental Health?

Athletes and Mental Health, Who Cares?

What’s Really Going on in an Athlete’s Mind?

 

 

inside the athlete mind

There is a belief that has been circling in the world of sports for as long as sports have existed. The belief that individuals who play sports are stronger than other humans (yes, athletes are also human believe it or not), both physically and mentally.

Athletes are assumed to have this unwavering ability to handle anything thrown at them, both literally and figuratively.

What happens when, no matter the amount of practice, an athlete just cannot seem to hit a curve ball? Is it because they haven’t practiced it enough? Is it because they can’t see it? There can be a number of questions raised on the physicality of an athlete when it comes to physical shortcomings.

The number one question which should be asked is:

What is going on in their mind as the ball was approaching the plate?

 

mental health in athletes

Far too often we blame a physical ailment as to why he couldn’t hit that jump shot, or she couldn’t dig that ball. The true focus should be on the athlete’s part of the body that cannot be seen and is not nearly trained enough: their brain.

Studies indicate elite athletes differ from mediocre athletes in one category: mental preparation/toughness. Let’s be clear, athletes, like anyone else, experience mental health issues like anxiety, depression, ADHD and learning disabilities.

It has never been about athletes being perfect or experiencing mental health issues. It is about the way an athlete learns to cope with these mental health difficulties so they can get to their highest achievements.

 

athlete Mental Health Statistics

Studies vary on the percentage of student-athletes with mental health issues, ranging from 10% – 30% of college athletes. There are a couple of reasons why the statistics vary.

First, the sports and mental health field is growing every day and new studies are coming out with their findings. Understanding mental health in athletes is still a relatively new field. It was not until 2013 the NCAA created the Mental Health Task Force to research issues relating to athletes and mental health. It has not been a priority in the past. Although there have been many strides, there is still a long way to go.

Second, I believe these statistics to be on the low end, meaning the percentage of athletes who experience mental health issues are probably higher. Although it is discussed more often today, it does not mean athletes are willing to admit to experiencing mental health issues.

There is still a stigma with mental health and seeking help. Athletes should be tougher than that right?

 

recognize mental health issues

Here is the good news. You’re not alone if you feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • frustrated
  • anxious
  • sad
  • pissed

Many athletes experience all of these emotions and I am here to tell you it’s perfectly normal. In fact, I would be concerned if you didn’t feel any of these emotions!

Often, society says, inaccurately, mental health issues are associated with weakness. Everyone, whether an athlete or not will experience some mental health issue(s) in their lifetime. It’s not so much about what the issue is, or whether someone else is going through something different.

It’s about the help you seek for it and what you can do for yourself to overcome it. There is strength in recognizing mental health issues and even more strength in advocating for a better mental health outcome for yourself.

 

 

Famous Athletes with Mental Health Disorders

Take a minute to read over these quotes spoken by some of the most successful athletes in the world. And take a minute to grasp the fact you are not alone. The teammate sitting next to you, the competitor you face, the coach instructing you, or the athlete on the other side of the world has been in your shoes.

“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see… Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another.” -Kevin Love

“I think as an athlete we’re taught that if we can push through anything we can make it wherever we want to go, and we’re always told to not ask for help.” -Allison Schmitt

Many of the most successful athletes in the world have experienced their own mental boxing match. We all have. We try to fight the big, bad, mental invasion forging in our brains. Thinking we need to do it alone. Thinking the outside world will believe we are weak. Instead of holding all that barrage of emotions, bring everything you’re feeling to light. Because when you bring it to light, you allow yourself to recognize it. And once you recognize it, you give yourself the freedom to overcome it.

 

 

Challenge: Work this Exercise

  1.  Grab a pen and paper, or your computer or whatever device you prefer.
  2.  Try to find a quiet area or room where ever you are reading this.
  3.  Put some music on if you like.
  4.  Have a seat with that pen and paper on the table.
  5.  Write down every emotion you have felt, both on and off the field relating to your sport, your teammates, your coach, school, family, any topic you want to think about.

Take about five minutes, or a little more if necessary.

If you want, do this with a friend and compare notes. This will give you an understanding of the different emotions every athlete has faced.

Keep this list posted somewhere.

We’ll expand on this next week when I talk about anxiety and coping strategies for practice, on the field of play, in school, and at home.

Good News Diagnosis Sometimes Means Bad News for the Relationship

Your relationship answers are unique

Find your answers

By Guest Author Gina Pera

Years ago, when my husband first agreed to be evaluated for ADHD, he did it on one condition: that I be evaluated for it, too.  Whether he simply disliked being singled out or truly thought me ADHD’ish remains lost in the mists of time and perhaps distorted perception.

My guess: He simply wasn’t connecting the dots between his actions and my reactions, which from his perspective seemed to come irrationally flying out of nowhere. From my perspective, of course, my reactions were entirely justified. But could I be sure? No.  Beside, something had to be up with me if I continued to “ride the rollercoaster” of miscommunications, conflict, agreements gone kerflooie, and so on.  So, I happily agreed to join him in a professional workup.

Two lengthy evaluations later, my husband was diagnosed with ADHD and I was not. Instead, the psychiatrist pronounced me “complex” and said, “We usually recommend that our patients with ADHD have partners who are organized and can take care of practical matters.”  It took me a minute to comprehend: Wait, you’re prescribing ME for my husband? (What might they prescribe if my husband didn’t already happen to be married to an organized  person. Divorce? A professional organizer love-match-making service? I didn’t think to ask.)

For the next few years, we endured some head-spinning confusion as we struggled to understand and smooth out the dynamics between the two of us, between our respective neurons, and various permutations thereof. During that tumultuous time, an outside observer might have been tempted to diagnose us with a smorgasbord of conditions. And, at some points, we certainly would have agreed.

Fast forward several years. My husband still has ADHD, though most of the time it’s now just a difference and not a big deal. I still don’t have ADHD, as my husband will confirm. I’m not perfect (who is?), but I’m much less confused, anxious, depressed, and reactionary than I used to be while the ADHD Roller Coaster ran full tilt and neither of us knew why. We’ve both made big changes.

Our story will resonate for many couples affected by unrecognized ADHD. That is, once the ADHD was diagnosed and addressed in a cooperative way, the rest of their challenges were more easily targeted and resolved. It was truly a “good news” diagnosis. For other couples, though, reaching the ADHD diagnosis creates more questions about the relationship’s dysfunction than it answers.  Which brings us to Part II of why the good-news diagnosis of ADHD sometimes means bad news for the relationship.

Previous Blog Recap: Good News/Bad News

To recap the previous blog post (click here to read the entire post):

       Newly diagnosed adults with ADHD begin treatment, often including medication, and soon the “fog” of distractibility, impulsivity, and inattention begins dissipating.  With newfound clarity, many of these adults start re-examining their choices – job and career, friendships, health habits, and sometimes even their mates.

      Frequently for the first time in their lives, adults feel solidly optimistic about their ability to evoke permanent changes; after all, they finally have the right answers and right tools. As they excitedly embrace new competencies and confidence, though, inevitably the “balance of power” in their relationship starts shifting.

Jack provided our case study in the previous blog post. Newly on board with ADHD treatment, he expressed bitter resentment over what he felt was his wife’s abject lack of appreciation for his stellar progress. He concluded she had unacknowledged problems of her own, including a drinking habit that had grown increasingly problematic over the years. Last I heard from him, they were headed to divorce.

Post-ADHD-Diagnosis and Reality

Last month, I offered a few reasons why Jack might not be seeing his wife’s side of things and might even be misperceiving his level of progress. The post-ADHD-diagnosis phenomenon is a big and complex topic, full of surprising twists and turns.

For example, sometimes the partners of adults with ADHD go a bit ballistic when the diagnosis finally is made. This typically occurs when they’ve long struggled to “explain the inexplicable” and “manage the unmanageable” around a partner’s unrecognized ADHD symptoms.

When they finally learn that not only did their partner’s problematic behavior have a name it also had a solution, their reaction might be akin to a psychological pressure-cooker blowing its lid. They think back to all the years of frustrating therapy sessions, of futile accommodations, of being blamed by their partner for being “too controlling” or  “fill in the blank.”  They might finally understand how they developed a drinking habit to compensate. The resentment might ratchet up by an order of magnitude if they are also suddenly expected to be their ADHD partners’ support system while receiving no acknowledgement of past hurts or any focused therapy to address their own trauma. All of these are common scenarios.

Another equally possible scenario for Jack is that his wife’s dysfunctional behaviors had long flown under the radar screen and had in fact been lifetime problems for her; he simply had been too “disconnected” to notice before marriage or after.  With treatment, though, he was noticing and dynamics were shifting.

I received a comment from Katy, who writes about Adult ADHD. She explained how her ADHD diagnosis had a similar bad-news effect on the relationship but a good-news effect in the end:

Katy: Another Real Life Story

Bad news: It was one catalyst for the end of the relationship I was in when I was diagnosed…but that relationship wasn’t a good fit for me or him anyway. He was a nice guy with a little toxic care taking streak that even pre-diagnosis I didn’t need imposed upon me. And frankly, some of my ADHD quirks were a little stressful for him to live with…duh 🙂 He was far too rigid in his routines for me to be able to accommodate.

        My diagnosis process made him appreciate me as someone who was working hard to take responsibility for their whole selves…but that didn’t change the fact that my whole self wasn’t a good fit for his whole self. Plus, he was using my eccentricities to hide behind, so he didn’t have to deal with his own…!

       I think we’re both better off having split up. I got tired of being “the person with the problem” and he got tired of stepping over the garbage can to get to the front door (hey, what can I say, I need visual cues).



Good news: I met the love of my life (sappy, sappy, sappy…but TRUE!) after breaking up with the other dude. He has ADHD too. We absolutely adore each other, and aren’t one bit annoyed with each others’ ADHD quirks. Half the time we don’t even notice each other’s ADHD quirks, the other half of the time we’re delighted with them.

      I find it highly amusing to watch him wandering around doing some of the exact same funny things that I do to myself all the time, it’s so funny to see it from the outside! Ex: today he tore the house apart from top to bottom, looking for his W-2. He says “I just know that I put it somewhere allegedly safe, and I have no idea where that might be!”. Every year I lose my W-2’s, tear apart the house, and say exactly the same thing. We really need to stop putting things in safe places! I just gave him big hug 🙂

As Katy’s story illustrates, one person’s ADHD diagnosis and treatment can “level the playing field” in the relationship.

In other words,it allows the couple to more clearly assess compatibility beyond the obvious level of, for example,  “I’m disorganized and he’s very disorganized.” Moreover, it ups the ante on the other partner “copping” to any dysfunctional behavior of his or her own instead of, as Katy points out, hiding behind a partner’s dysfunction.

When The “Partner Of” Does Have ADHD, Too

Using the term non-ADHD partners to describe the partners of adults with ADHD  never made sense to me.  For starters, what if they have ADHD, too?  Happens all the time.

But what if they don’t yet know they have ADHD? Given the millions of adults with undiagnosed ADHD, of course it’s possible. Moreover, it figures that the partner with the most obvious or extreme ADHD symptoms will be diagnosed first while the other might come to it only years later. Or never.

Over the years of moderating support groups for partners of adults with ADHD, I’ve often wondered about certain members who over long periods of time continue to report no progress on the home front. They also tend to be the ones who keep repeating the same problems and asking me the same questions, never seeming to internalize the information and take action. Could they possibly have ADHD, along with their partners? (Side note: I also see this phenomenon among some parents of children with ADHD who don’t seem to notice they might have ADHD, too.)

Some eventually do figure it out. But, from what I’ve observed, it typically happens months or even years after a partner’s treatment starts to stabilize. When the dust finally begins to settle—when they’re not constantly being drawn into a partner’s ADHD-related crises and dramas—they (or their therapists) can more clearly perceive their own contributions to the problems in the relationship. Finally, they can start separating years of poor coping mechanisms (in reacting to a partner’s unrecognized ADHD symptoms) from their own lifelong challenges.

I receive many letters from readers of my book, Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?  As you would expect, many are written by the partners of adults with ADHD. Surprisingly, though, most letters come from adults with ADHD.

What The Research Tells Us

The anecdotes from Katy are just that: anecdotes. They are not statistical probabilities; they are simply possibilities. And when it comes to the mental health of partners of adults with ADHD—newly partnered or in longstanding relationships—anything is possible. That hasn’t stopped the pundits, however, from issuing often-repeated stereotypes about the partners’ psychological makeup or personality, including

  • They have ADHD, too
  • They have low self-esteem
  • They are “sadistic and controlling”
  • They are boring “muggles “

Trouble is, such certainties are based purely on bias and conjecture even when issued by alleged experts, as they regrettably often are.

First, consider this: ADHD affects an estimated 10 to 30  million adults in the U.S., it is a syndrome with highly variable traits, and there’s much more to a person than ADHD symptoms.   In short, we cannot make any one-size-fits-all pronouncements about adults with ADHD. How then can we possibly do that for their partners, past or current?

Second:  We cannot assess the partners’ psychological characteristics without also considering the end result of living with a mate’s undiagnosed or untreated ADHD symptoms—sometimes for decades and sometimes while also raising children with ADHD. Sure, we can make anecdotal observations how the partners typically seem now, a few months or a few decades into these often high-stress relationships (and this, it seems, is what the alleged experts do).  But what were they like before a few spins around the ADHD Roller Coaster? And what about the partners we don’t see in support groups?

Research is extremely limited on this topic, yet there are two small but important published studies from well-known researchers that shed some light. And there is the ADHD Partner Survey, which examined this topic from several angles.  First the published research:

  1. The psychosocial functioning of children and spouses of adults with ADHD found that “overall, spouses of ADHD adults show no more lifetime and current psychiatric disorders than spouses of comparison adults, challenging the concept of selective mating. They do, however, report more psychological distress on the SCL-90-R and less marital satisfaction. “
  2. The marital and family functioning of adults with ADHD and their spouses – found that the spouses of adults with ADHD did not differ from the control group in terms of psychiatric health.

The ADHD Partner Survey asked respondents about the state of their mental health both before and during the relationship. The goal for this part of the survey was to differentiate between baseline mental health-conditions (prior to relationship) and the psychological impact of living with a partner’s unrecognized ADHD symptoms.  The picture that emerges is of a diverse group who bring to these relationships very different backgrounds and mental states. No surprise there.

It seems the only accurate description we have for the partners of adults with ADHD is this: They live with (or used to live with) a partner who has ADHD. After that, anything is possible and no one-size-fits-all characterizations are useful.

Gina Pera is an internationally renowned author dedicated to exploring ADHD especially its impact on relationships. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaPera or on her website www.ginapera.com.