Say you were a Pro-player with gifted qualities playing in a high-profile sport, the kind your coach and teammates depends on to deliver results, would you tell them about your depression?
What if it wasn’t your mind, but your body, that was giving you stress? Would you open up about a sore hip but hold back on a suicidal thoughts? Tell them about an asthma attack, but not a panic attack? If so, why?
These are questions that’s been on Jessie Barr’s mind, a former athlete for a few years now. Ever since she began her PhD on the stigma of mental health in sport, and now with the finish line in sight, her findings appear mind boggling.
As a result of all the progress made in recent years, Mrs Barr says a huge fear still remains about how admitting to such mental health issues will be perceived.“My research findings discover that people are willing to seek help but are worried about what people will think,” she says. “Will my coach see me in a different light? Will I become a benchwarmer? Will I be declared unfit for the team? Will people start to see me differently? There’s always a worry about people’s perception and that is why 63% of people said they’d be slow to seek help.”
Jessie believes the issue is most common in male sports, with players scared to admit any possible weakness.
“The nature of sport now is we are removing weakness, judging the person who’s the toughest mentally and physically toughest, the fittest and fastest, but when you tell people you’re going to see a clinical psychologist, immediately this is perceived as weakness. will he/she be able to play on the team if he/she had depression last year?’”
Her principal goal was to find the root cause of that fear, and Barr believes sports coaches have an important role to play. “If players hear a coach lose interest in someone who went to a psychologist it can stem-up from there.
Some years ago, after completing her degree in psychology in UL, Barr found a sporting landscape with only “voices in unity” willing to speak out, but she says, in most cases, the reality does not match players’ ideology.
These ignorant comments, whether it be intended or not, ends up solidifying the stigma.
Being a witness on both sides of the fence, she knows fully well the psychological demands can be crippling on many sports people. Her purpose now is to help them cope through it and to craft out a normal practice, that should be just that – normal.
The 29-year-old is known to practice what she preaches, and she plans to see a clinical psychologist herself in the coming months to blend into her new career, her new personality.
Also she speaks for many others in sports a decision she says has a 2-sided feel to it: “I’d like to be able to seek help without people thinking there’s something wrong with me”. She says.
William Kellogg is a veteran writer who’s covered the subject of the intersection of technology, health and mental wellness for nearly two decades.