Mental Health….that topic that seems to be making headlines now more than ever both in general society, and in the world of competitive sport. Mental health issues are not new by any means, but there is now a much better understanding of it, language to talk about it, and help to deal with it. Mental health and wellness can mean different things to different people, and it can vary depending on what is going on in our lives, our genetic make up, and how we cope.
Learning how to be mentally healthy can help some people make a good life great, others to improve the ability to handle mental health struggles, and for the student athlete, take your sports performance to a higher level. Regardless of the reason, good mental health and wellness can make a big difference in the quality of our lives, now and in the future. For the reason that many mental illnesses (between 50% and 70%) show up before the age of 18, and about one in seven (14%) of young people in B.C. will experience a mental illness at some point there are a few things that can be helpful to know when it comes to mental health.
By formal definition, mental health as defined by the Public Health Agency of Canada is the capacity to feel, think and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face...incorporating, spiritual, physical, mental and social aspects of wellness as an individual, in our relationships and in our interpretation of events. Questions that can get us thinking about our mental health and wellness might include the following: Are you generally happy over time? Do you get enjoyment out of the activities that you are involved with? Are you able to achieve the things you want to? Are you able to maintain healthy relationships? How well do you handle stress and pressure when feeling the crunch of heavy academic deadlines or competing against that number one ranked team? Do you cope in healthy ways when faced with challenging situations?
Now, it is important to realize that many people throughout his or her lifetime will have struggles with mental health symptoms. This doesn’t mean that an individual is weak, a loser, is going crazy, or has a mental health disorder. When challenging life circumstances occur an individual might experience symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. More often than not, this is considered normal, and a common response. A student athlete transitioning from high school into college for example, might initially have a lot of worry thoughts, and/or feelings of fear, and overwhelm, struggle with sleep, or appetite, and not feel as good about themselves as they usually do. These symptoms can lessen, and disappear once some familiarity and comfort is gained with the college and sport environments, expectations and process. Having to achieve a certain grade on an upcoming exam in order to keep an active spot team can also be a stressful situation. In response to the challenge, a student athlete may start to doubt themselves, their abilities, have more negative thoughts, experience mood swings, low motivation to study (cause that never happens), fatigue, and procrastination may turn into avoidance. Once the test is over however, these symptoms can lessen and disappear.
Many people are able to cope and move through painful and tough times without enduring symptoms and ongoing negative consequences to your relationships, physical and mental health, and academic and athletic performance.
Other people however, may experience these same symptoms but more severely and at a far greater cost. How would you know what is normal and what may not be you ask?
Generally speaking, if the symptoms you are struggling with don’t seem to lessen and/or disappear within a reasonable amount of time, and they are getting in the way of your regular daily functioning (cant get out of bed, go to school, or work, sleeping and eating patterns deteriorate, and isolation increases) then you might need to reach out. After all, it sucks not be able to participate in, and enjoy your own life right?
The kindest thing you can do for yourself is to reach out, because no one should have to suffer needlessly. There are a variety of different ways that individuals can help themselves to improve their mental wellness. There are a number of basics that
can be explored and addressed:
- Progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing helps to control arousal levels and anxiety symptoms. After games and/or building this into your sleep routine on a regular basis can aid with physical recovery.
- Eating and sleep habits….tough one with heavy schedules and Netflix. Think about the impact on your car if you drive it at 150 kms every time you get behind the wheel. Probably break down more quickly without regular maintenance. You need to give your body fuel and enough rest if you want to keep up and maintain all around good health.
- Regular exercise – Royals have this nailed!
- Work-Life-School balance – ongoing process….try to carve out some time for fun activities that you are interested in or curious about. Try something new with people that you enjoy being with.
Beyond the basics, there are many online, and in person resources that are youth friendly, and can provide useful information and help.
Mindcheck.ca – helpful for youth and young adults. Self-help tools and support.
Youthinbc.ca – can offer “live” help (and I have heard from many young people the professionals can be very helpful)
Mindshift App – Coping with Anxiety
211 – call or Text for Information
BC Mental Health Information Line (no area code needed – 310-6789)
First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line – 1-855-242-3310
Distress Line of B.C. – 1-800-Suicide (784-2433)
Alcohol and Drug Info/Referrals 604-669-9382
Keltymentalhealth.ca (Healthy Living Tool Kit)
Counselling Dept at Douglas College
Your friendly DC College Mental Performance Consultant (that’s what we are here for!)
If a student athlete trains their brain even a fraction of what they train their body, the payoff can be big. Mental performance skills are also life skills and accessing your MPC is a great place to start. Whether you want to improve your mental health or you want to take your game from good to great, increasing your overall mental health is the ticket these days. Think of it as investment in yourself that will serve you very well during the course of your participation in sport, and in your lifetime.
Leanne Fielding, MA, CCC MPC