Managing Mental Health Problems in High School Athletes

Many teens who are involved with sports in high school are considered to be in great shape when it comes to their mental health. After all, they might be able to balance schoolwork with sports with no problem. They are often popular and give the appearance of being confident. High school athletes might be active in the dating and social life scenes. Unfortunately, however, while a teenage athlete’s physical health might be taken very seriously, his or her mental health might not be. Because sports-minded teens might see mental health concerns as a sign of weakness, they might not be likely to reach out and look for help. In addition, the sports culture itself can exacerbate certain types of mental illness. Read on for information on the topic of mental health issues in high school athletes.

Concussions and Mental Health

In certain sports, particularly football, soccer, and baseball, concussions can be a part of the game. Head injuries are not uncommon, and for high school athletes who plays all four years, it’s not improbable to suffer from several concussions over the course of a high school career. Traumatic brain injuries cause a host of physical problems, and they can also cause mental health issues.

Any teen who has had a head injury should be evaluated for a concussion. Symptoms can include:

  • dizziness
  • persistent headache
  • a lack of coordination
  • other neurological issues

In some cases, a concussion can cause depression and other mental health issues. One problem is that teens, particularly those who participate in sports, tend to have a lot on their plates and they might forcefully resist efforts to get them to rest and allow their brains to heal. This can lead to anxiety on top of any issues caused by the concussion.

Bullying On and Off the Field

There is a fair amount of hazing and bullying that can take place on and off the field among teens who play sports. Some schools and communities tend to look the other way more than others when it comes to bullying. It’s vital that parents and coaches come together to address bullying and stop it at the very first signs.

With suicide being a leading cause of death among teens and young adults, many communities are now more aware of how the issue relates to bullying. Being bullied can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. These, in turn, can lead to an increased risk of suicide. If your teenager is being bullied by others on his or her athletic team, approach the coach and the school administration to have the problem rectified. Don’t wait; do it right away so that the bully or bullies can get the necessary help.

Eating Disorders and Teen Athletes

Is your teen participating in a sport that relies on size or the shape of their body? Any teens can be at risk for developing an eating disorder, but sports like wrestling and gymnastics might be likely to encourage unhealthy eating habits in their participants. If your teen is struggling to get into a lower weight class or doesn’t like the way he or she looks in a leotard or bathing suit, an eating disorder might develop.

Common eating disorders in athletic teens are anorexia and bulimia. A teen with anorexia might eat very little; conversely, a teen with bulimia might eat a lot but then will purge by vomiting or by using laxatives in an attempt to rid the body of the extra calories. Eating disorders can’t be cured by simply telling teens to eat better; they require intensive mental health care. If you suspect that your teen is dealing with an eating disorder, make a prompt appointment with his or her primary care physician.

Substance Abuse and High School Athletes

There are many ways that high school athletes can get drawn into substance abuse. First, parties are often held after big games, and those parties tend to feature alcohol and, in some cases, party drugs. This might be particularly true once the season is over, particularly if your school district does random or regular drug and alcohol tests of its players. A teenage athlete with a busy social life might be binge-drinking and experimenting with drugs with his or her parents never suspecting a thing.

Some athletes will turn to steroids and other performance-enhancers. Other teens will be prescribed painkillers after being injured; these can lead to dependence. It’s important for parents and coaches to be aware of the potential for drug use and abuse and to take steps to discourage such behavior in their players.

Depression and Anxiety

During the busyness of the athletic season, sporty teens might struggle with stress and overwhelm. They are often balancing their schoolwork, sports, a part-time job, obligations at home, and their social lives. Most high school athletes need to keep up a certain GPA, which can be difficult for some teens. Seniors are also applying to colleges and looking for scholarships. Over time, this can lead to anxiety. Symptoms can include:

  • high levels of frustration
  • panic attacks
  • physical ailments, like frequent headaches or stomachaches

If your teen wants to drop out of a beloved sport, is not keeping up with his or her good hygiene, or is experiencing a drastic drop in grades, it’s possible that depression is to blame. In severe cases, depression can lead to suicide, so it’s important to have this situation evaluated right away.

In Conclusion

If you suspect that your high school athlete is dealing with any type of mental health issue, make an appointment with his or her doctor. If there are no physical causes, he or she will refer your child to the appropriate mental health professional. Also, talk to your teen’s school administration to find out what resources are available to students who are struggling with their mental health. If there’s nothing available, find out what you can do to support change. Reducing the stigma that accompanies mental health issues in athletes and non-athletes alike can save lives.