Suicide and Professional Sports

A serious topic on the rise is suicide and professional sports. Professional athletes at every level face staggering amounts of pressure, which can severely impact their mental health. A Canadian study published in 2021 found that athletes across all skill levels,  around 41% of professional athletes, meet the criteria for one or more mental disorders. In 2022,  The National Collegiate Athletic Association found that the suicide rates for female student-athletes tripled compared to any other year only 4 months into 2022. 

Ice hockey

From the professional leagues to junior hockey to post-secondary teams, balancing academic standards while performing at the most optimal level in their chosen sport is a lot of responsibility. Additionally, many young athletes are experiencing living away from home for the first time, which can be a difficult transition.

A 2021 study, “Reaching out: Help-seeking among professional male ice hockey athletes,” finds that there is “pressure” for male athletes to keep silent about their health struggles and deal with them independently. 

Potential consequences of seeking help 

Katie Crawford, the lead author of the study, says that while there are more resources available to professional athletes, the fear of the repercussions of using those resources keeps many men staying silent and struggling. Fear of losing their position on a team and of judgment from teammates, coaches, fans and the general public keep many players remaining silent and struggling alone. 

Crawford found that, while some players were aware of resources available to them because their team provided them, many players were wary of reaching out to them in case their league found out. 

Client Confidentiality is key

A huge part of therapy is client confidentiality. Clients need to trust their counsellors, as developing a safe, judgment-free environment is critical to creating a trusting relationship between the client and the counsellor. A registered clinical counsellor will take your privacy seriously, and none of your information will be shared without your consent. 

Society pressures men to stay silent

Unfortunately, societal stigmas continue to affect men and their relationship with mental health. While attitudes towards mental health and mental illness are shifting, several types of stigma still affect men, including social, self, professional and cultural. While outdated societal norms deem men asking for help as “unmanly,” this is not true. Mental health issues can look different for every individual and can vary in severity. Like physical illnesses, if an issue is not addressed, it can grow and worsen over time. 

Signs that someone may be struggling with their mental health

A mental health crisis can manifest in different ways for different people. For athletes, anxiety, depression, burnout, severe stress or eating disorders can all be indicators that they are struggling to cope with the pressures and expectations put on them. 

If someone is struggling with their mental health, they may:

  • Sleep too much or too little
  • Stop participating in activities that once brought them pleasure 
  • Gain or lose weight rapidly 
  • Have periods where they appear to be low energy or “empty.”

While these symptoms can seem scary and overwhelming, anyone experiencing any of the above is not alone. By the age of 40, 1 in 2 Canadians will have or have had a mental illness, according to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health CAMH).

Resources available for players in Ontario and Canada

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) teamed together in 2014 to launch Talk Today, which includes mental health awareness and suicide prevention training for athletes and direct connections to mental health supports when necessary. Talk Today also hosts game days in each community to reduce stigma and inspire discussion about mental health. The organization includes junior hockey teams, post-secondary sports programs, and minor sports organizations across Canada and is a mandatory program for players in the OHL. 

If you need help, reach out.

It is normal to feel stressed or overwhelmed. However, speaking out and asking for the help you need without mental health awareness, and recognition can be challenging. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health concerns, asking for help is the right thing. While stigmas are lessening, athletes still feel immense pressure to be as perfect as possible and meet exceedingly high standards and expectations. 

If you or someone you know would like to seek professional counseling contact us today here at Eugenio Counselling Services.