Mental health in Sport

Not quite sure where to post this as it obviously impacts football too, but recent high profile cases have appeared across the spectrum of sports.

Three top sports people have recently had their careers interrupted by mental health issues. Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Ben Stokes are all superstars at the absolute peak of their respective sports with success, acclaim and fans worldwide. It feels as if something is happening to change the way we see these cases, and the readiness of those affected to come forward.
Like many on here, I grew up in a time when you were expected to push yourself to the limit, physically and mentally, in sports, when coaches drove you to tears as a matter of course.
What’s going on? Are we becoming soft? Or are we just recognising a problem that has been swept under the carpet for too long? Interested to hear your views.


Cricket is unusually associated with high levels of mental illness. It’s got a very high suicide rate, for example - I think there’s even been a book written on it and this issue goes back decades.

I think, however, that social media is responsible for a large part of why those in the public eye (particularly but not exclusively) are increasingly suffering from mental health issues.

I don’t think humans are any softer especially, but we are now more exposed than ever before.


In society in general I think there are several contributing factors.

Firstly more awareness and understanding of mental health issues and therefore less stigma attached to those who talk about them. In football you had a few players who were obviously alcoholics, but the reasons why tended not to be talked about.

Secondly the introduction of social media has brought about new ways of being affected by things that can affect mental health, eg cyber bullying, fomo and whatever the word is for only seeing the best aspects of everyone elses lives and thinking yours is shit by comparison.

Thirdly. And some wil be reluctant to admit this. But some people use having ‘mental health’ as a crutch or an excuse, or a means of attention seeking. It’s important not to dismiss people because most instances will be genuine, but for some it’s convenient excuse for not trying.

In general I don’'t think we’re softer, just whereas before you’d see people in the public eye killing themelves, or having drug/alcohol problems or other vice addictions, you’re just more likely to see them stating they are suffering from depression and seeking help because of the increased awareness and reduced stigma.


Totally agree with tour 3rd point.

Bit like the girl who pulled out of the gymnastics citing mental health but in fact it was she wasn’t going to win Gold after telling everyone she was the GOAT.

Of course sports/music/movie stars can get mental health issue at anytime. Being famous doesn’t stop that but I do think there’s a lot of people in the celebrity world who use it as attention and the trouble with that is it causes people to lose sympathy for those who genuinely have it.

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  1. More media attention.
  2. More resulting pressure because of more people following you, both through the media and the social media, often without being properly schooled how to deal with all that attention focusing on yourself.
  3. Every little bit of your life being analysed and judged by millions of self-elected experts, who don’t hesitate to insult you as much as they can if you experience bad days, or even to threaten your and your family’s life.
  4. Insane amounts of money at stake, not only for yourself, but also for others, increasing the pressure again to win even more of it. And no, that sort of pressure doesn’t make anyone happier.

Compare all that to how athletes were living their sports in the pre- and post-WW2 period. I for one am honestly surprised that we don’t see more of similar cases among top athletes nowadays.


I think we have to be careful to not just reflexively box them all together. I havent read much to provide insight into the Stokes situation so wont comment on it, but certainly Biles and Osaka are very different issues.

Biles has pushed the sport to a point where the ruling body is publicly admitting to not scoring her routines properly because they contains moves so difficult that they feel there is a safety imperative to dissuade other (lesser) gymnasts from feeling forced to attempt them if they want to compete. What has then happened is she’s pushed herself so far she cracked. She’s now like a golfer who has made a change to his swing and no longer has any idea whether he’s going to hook it or slice it. The difference being each mistake she makes can maim her. Her withdrawal was not a case of needing time for her mental health as has been popularly explained, but a case of not being able to safely compete until she can sort out what gymnasts and tumblers call the twisties.

Osaka’s is another interesting case, and while I’ve seen it blamed on social media I don’t buy that. Her issue is clearly with the press, a perspective that sections of them exist solely to shit stir rather than cover the sport for sports sake*. I’ve seen good arguments that it is because she can still turn to social media to get out her personally curated message that she feels empowered enough to cut out the traditional press in ways that athletes of previous generations felt they were not able to do.

*As an example, think of the US female sprinter who missed the Olympics because of her positive test for weed at the US trials. She went into an emotional spiral that resulted in her turning to weed for her anxiety, despite knowing it was a banned substance, after being asked in an interview on her thoughts about her biological mother’s death, something that was until then unknown to her. Why the fuck would any sports reporter ask an athlete that question?

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Other athletes who walked away from their sport to deal with other things

  • Jim Brown, someone who no one ever accused of being soft, at least they’d never have said it twice.
  • Bjorn Borg
  • Michael Jordan
  • Barry Sanders

These occurred in the 60s, 80s, 90s and 90s respectively. High profile athletes taking a break or walking away from their sport entirely because they’ve had enough or want to focus on other things is not a new phenomenon. Not everything should be shoe horned into the current culture wars about how we’re raising a generation of soft kids.

That is an absolutely terrible take.


In Simone Biles case her body may simply be no longer cooperating the way it has in the past. She turned 24 in March. That is very old for a female gymnast. Even though she had a good Olympic trials, she was still bested in points by Sunrisa Lee. Tell you what, you don’t want to go rocketing down a vault run or doing some of the other insane stuff Biles does without absolute confidence.

We love to watch sports and we see the results of the immense pressure all the time. Athletes “choking” under pressure. We revere the ones pressure seems to make perform better: Federer, Michael Jordan, Zidane. Truth is, there are more athletes who crack under the pressure than there are ones it makes better. Let’s not forget Robert Enke, German keeper who hurled himself in front of a train in 2009. Obviously, he had bigger issues than football, but living under the football microscope certainly didn’t help.

Hard to see, however, when an athlete gives in to the pressure, as Naomi Osaka has, a way back athletically. You either deal with it or lose. That’s the truth of sports IMO.

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No she wasn’t. There are tons of individuals scores you can pick out that go into the cumulative score, and in many of those Lee had the best score. But Biles has not been beaten in an all around for nearly 10 years, and that includes the recent trials, despite having what to her was an off day on the second rotation.

So the problem I have with Simona Biles and her using mental health for not competing last week.

From my very militer experience in knowing people with poor mental health I find it hard to believe that she has a mental health issue last week which led to her being unable to compete but this week it’s seems to have gone and she was able to compete and compete to such a high standard that she got a medal.

But again I’m no expert but there does seem to be a lot of people who cite mental health issues as the reason for not doing something and then in no time at all they appear to be cured.

In my limited experience of mental
Health issues I’m not sure of how it works to be honest but it does seem to be an illness of convenience for an awful lot of people which I think is a possibility take for those who really do suffer.

A convenient excuse for what? You think a woman who has committed her life to a sport just rocked up to an event that is the pinnacle of her sport where she was the overwhelming favourite and just couldn’t be bothered?

She is suffering from a sudden an inexplicable phenomenon that everyone involved in gymnastics or other tumbling sports is familiar with, something they call the twisties. It means she’s lost the sense of where her body is in space as she’s tumbling and the result is she reasonably has no confidence in her ability to execute any of her maneuvers. Going out there and competing in that state means every maneuver in every routine presents the real possibility of permanent paralysis. I think referring to that as an issue of mental health is perfectly reasonable.


Yes what he said.

And to offer a slightly further explanation. The balance beam is equipment in which the issues she has been facing is drastically reduced. Other than the final dismount (she did a less demanding and difficult one) there just isn’t the same risks involved in the routine.

So it is something which is specific to gymnastics then and not really like a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression.

Ok didn’t realise that but I think to class that as a mental health issue is also a tad misleading. Seems to have been a temporary thing any how

Are we seriously discussing gymnastics in here? Snickers anyone?

I think we underestimate the mental aspect to sport.

Natural talent only takes a person so far. Its that determination, desire to to be the best, dedication and a whole host of other qualities. There is not a Olympian who did not make huge sacrifices to get where they are. Like anything though, even traits which are generally positive (eg dedication) too much and it can turn into a negative.

If we take the normal world. Its almost taken for granted that many leadership/CEOs frequently display narcissism. Or display psychopathic tendencies, egoistical or low empathy. Be this stepping on someone to rise to the top or displaying little social conscience for the impact of your decisions.

The same is true for sportsmen. There are those that seek the admiration, have self inflated self worth. Display arrogance. Have that single minded focus. Most in training from being a young teenager. Primed to be the best.

Its no surprise that many crack under the pressure. Or find it difficult to deal with reality. I could not do what many of them have to deal with. I could not make the sacrifices. I admire, but have different values.

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But isn’t that what separate the good sports people and athletes to the amazing ones?

The ability to hold it together not just physically but mentally as well?

While playing, sure. But not in life in general. Was Steve Harmison (I think it was him) a lesser bowler because he couldnt deal with the loneliness and lack of familiarity of a cricket tour? Sure, it made him less valuable, but not a worse cricketer.

You dont think your sport trying to kill you is a reason to feel anxiety when trying to compete? And who cares that it was not permanent and irresolvable. That doesnt make the impact in the moment any less.

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No my point is that to say that the twisties is a mental health issue seems bizarre.

I know people with mental health issues and for them getting out of bed each day to face the world is a huge challenge.

We all know people who take the piss and say “ye I’m depressed“ or “I suffer with anxiety“ but in comparison to people who really do have those illnesses these people who take the piss and claim they have mental health issues don’t know their born.

To say that an athlete has mental health issues and she can’t compete one week, and then is able to compete thé week after, and to such a high standard that she is considered the 3rd best on the planet too me doesn’t seem correct and it feels like we are
Doing a very very big injustice to those who wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed - let alone compete in an Olympic Games ffs.

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I notice Tyrone Mings has recently come out and said he suffered with mental health issues during the euros because he thought that people
Thought he wasn’t deserved a place in the England squad.

Surely that isn’t a mental health issue - surely that is just self doubt - it doesn’t mean you have a mental health issue.

I feel things are just labelled too easily these days and it’s almost become a cool trend to say “I have mental health issues“

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