How Injuries Affect Mental Health in Athletes
Athletes who participate in a sport long-term know that injuries are inevitable at some point in their career, particularly in impact sports. An athlete will likely hope that if they do acquire an injury, it is easily treatable, and the problem doesn’t arise again – sometimes, this isn’t the case, and injuries may become long-term, keeping the athlete from competing further. When this occurs, it can cause a plethora of negative psychological effects, such as mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Injured athletes are also more likely to experience feelings of unhappiness and dejection, and may become more irritable and isolated.
When student athletes, or any who are highly involved in their sports, are inhibited from participating there befalls a natural psychological response. For many athletes, sports create a natural high, and are often used as an outlet for stress and anxiety. When this outlet is removed, the athlete may feel as if they have no other way to cope with these stressors – magnifying them and creating a more stressful situation.
For others, particularly in younger athletes and student-athletes, their sport becomes a major part of their identity, and when that portion of their identity is taken away, there will be an inevitable feeling of loss. Their self-esteem may also suffer as a result of this, similarly to when an athlete experiences what they would deem as failure in their respective sport achievement-wise.
The added stress and anxiety from an injury also contributes negatively to the already demanding schedule that academics and sports combined require. Additionally, athletes are often more likely to resist, or believe that they need or are worthy of, psychological help, perhaps perceiving it as an indicator that they are unable to handle the mental and physical demands of being an elite athlete and university student. This may stem from the culture of simply subduing mental difficulties as they might push through the pain of physical exertion in training.
Even for participants in sport who are not elite, an injury which inhibits them from continuing in their sport can present mental challenges. Exercise in non-competitive form is oftentimes a form of therapy itself, or at least a source of stress relief and enjoyment. Many people participate in sport because exercise is a natural mood-enhancer; the brain, during exercise, produces an excess of endorphins, which makes you feel happier. If anxiety is present, exercise can also be a natural way to alleviate those feelings, as well as making you feel fitter and therefore likely raising self-esteem.
While nobody goes into sports expecting to have to stop playing due to an injury, sometimes injuries are an inevitable component of sport participation. Recovery and rehabilitation, depending on the severity of the injury, can even take the form of another sport (cross-training), and it is to be hoped that, with the proper recovery process, the athlete will be able to return to their sport – perhaps with a new appreciation of sport and their ability to take part in it.
Putukian, Margot. “Mind, Body and Sport: How Being Injured Affects Mental Health.” The National Collegiate Athletic Association, https://www.ncaa.org/sport-science-institute/mind-body-and-sport-how-being-injured-affects-mental-health
Smith, A M. “Psychological Impact of Injuries in Athletes.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)vol. 22,6 (1996): 391-405.
Smith, Lydia. “How a Sports Injury Can Affect Your Mental Health.” Patient, 23 September 2019, https://patient.info/news-and-features/how-a-sports-injury-can-affect-your-mental-health