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Time to wake up! Athlete’s mental health challenges mirror societies

Mental health has taken centre-stage in recent months with high profile athletes Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Ben Stokes and more recently Tyrone Mings talking candidly about their personal challenges, and prioritising their mental health over their sport.

Whilst I herald their courage and willingness to be phenomenal role models, I cannot help feeling saddened we have missed the opportunity to use this spotlight to broaden the debate about the current crisis in children’s mental health.

Data from 2020 shows we now have 1 in 6 children with a probable diagnosable mental health issue, equivalent to 5 children in each and every class in each and every school from reception all at the way up to year 11!! These aren’t children just having a bad day, or struggling to pick themselves up when things don’t go to plan – these are children battling depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, self-harm, and so much more.

Why is this not being talked about more in the press and by government???

These children don’t have sponsorship deals, they don’t live in the public eye adored by fans, and yet their struggles and experience of mental health are no different to these high profile athletes. Good and poor mental health is universal and is relative to the individual’s personal circumstances. A 13-year old treen struggling with debilitating social anxiety fears the same level of judgement by others as an athlete, who feels the mounting pressure of expectation from their country or adoring fans.

Let’s not diminish their experience because as adults we can’t understand what the hell they’re worrying about!!

Let me explain.

Imagine your mental health is like a see-saw. For optimal wellbeing your see-saw is pretty much in balanced. On one side you have what you perceive are the demands being placed on you by a given situation, which are met equally by what you perceive are the resources you have within yourself to met them. Poor mental health occurs when your see-saw tips off balance and you find yourself in a situation where you perceive the demands being placed on you far outweigh any resources you perceive you have to deal with it. Now this equation is the same for Simone Biles as it is for our 13 year old with debilitating social anxiety – it’s all based on the individuals appraisal of any given situation.

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks you are capable or incapable of doing – it is all to do with how you, the individual, sees the situation.

So I welcome a more open dialogue which acknowledges athletes as ‘normal’ people who have the same angst as the rest of us.

However, let us not forget talk only gets us so far – we need to take action NOW to stop a whole generation of children growing up into adults who struggle to hold down jobs, form meaningful relationships, and step into who they really are.

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