A lot of sports fans in recent years have come to recognize that being physically healthy doesn’t mean you can’t be struggling with mental illness. This is something we ought to understand on a pretty fundamental level, but because the athletes we tend to watch and admire tend to seem almost superhuman, it can be easy to believe–even subconsciously–that external fitness and mental health go hand-in-hand. Fortunately though, more athletes have been speaking up of late about the various mental health issues they deal with, helping more people to realize that no matter how a person appears on the outside, depression, anxiety, and other issues can still be at hand.
Below are three world-class athletes who have bravely opened up about some of these struggles.
WNBA player Elizabeth “Liz” Cambage gave a raw account about living with mental illness in an essay she penned for The Players’ Tribute. She explained that she’s had issues with her mental health since she was a teenager, and was put on suicide watch in 2016. Cambage further revealed that she still carries shame over the incident.
She noted, however, that she has been able to treat her racing thoughts with the help of medication.
“I’m one of the many millions of people in the world right now on medication to help treat depression and anxiety,” wrote the talented center. “I’ve been taking those meds for years. They keep my self-doubts from spinning out of control. They allow me to feel steady at those times when my mood would otherwise skyrocket or plummet. They help me sleep. Really, my meds just make me feel like a healthier and freer version of myself.”
She added being close to her family also has done wonders for her mental state. All in all, in addition to being a courageous essay, Cambage presented herself as an excellent example of how to accept fundamental help – and what good that can do for a person struggling.
Over the past few years, Naomi Osaka has made a major name for herself in the world of tennis. Though she’s not yet 22 years old, she’s already won multiple Grand Slams. And in fact, when the U.S. bookmaking sites start posting their odds for January’s Australian Open (the next Grand Slam on the calendar), she may well have the best odds to win it, just as she did earlier this year.
Through all of this success, however, the young champion has felt the pressure, and she’s spoken openly about how it’s taken a toll on her wellbeing.
At various points, speaking to various publications, Osaka has discussed the idea that losing a match in a high-pressure situation can seem like the end of the world, and that she began to understand how that kind of pressure could have a significant negative effect. And while she hasn’t detailed succumbing to those negative effects fully, she does seem to have gotten the message even from feeling hints of them. Osaka has spoken about surrounding herself with people she loves and maintaining positive energy as a means of combatting potential demons.
That’s a good message in general, but it may also be an encouraging sign that some of today’s younger star athletes are aware enough about mental health to address it preemptively.
In 2016, UFC champion Ronda Rousey received backlash following her admission that she considered ending her life after losing a match in Australia. That being said, the professional wrestler is all to familiar with how suicide effects loved ones, given that both her father and grandfather took their own lives.
Following the criticism, Ronda took the opportunity to discuss the importance of destigmatizing depression and suicidal thoughts.
“[We need to take] the stigma away from everything suicide and [make] it actually acceptable for people to talk about and look for help and not feel ashamed of themselves for it,” she explained.
“I think that [dialogue] should be encouraged. It’s not about damning people and I feel like there’s been an overly negative light on that. It’s something real people are going through.”
It’s something people can’t hear enough, and Rousey’s decision to be so strong and open speaking up about it makes her another glowing example of athletes changing how we look at mental health.
Share your thoughts: Are you likely to more forthcoming about your own experiences when you hear of someone well-known sharing their struggles?