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4 Times Athletes Are In The Mental Health Danger Zone

Steve Debenport

One of the most terrible things about being an athlete is that the assumption is that, if you are an athlete, you are fit in every way possible. People tend to focus much more on what they can see. Athletes usually look physically fit, but that has nothing to do with mental fitness. Mental fitness is not as easy to spot, and because of that, it often goes unspoken about. Some key moments can cause athletes to fall into a dangerous place when it comes to their mental health, and I want to point them out so you can be aware of them. 

When Your Sport Is Attached To Self-Worth

Anytime you have your sport attached to your competition, you become in danger of mental health issues. This is why sometimes the most celebrated athletes are the ones who are in the most danger. 

When people know you as being an athlete, your whole social media presence is about being an athlete, what happens is that everyone knows you like that. It becomes your reputation, but it is far from your character. The character is who you are; reputation is what other people think you are. 

Focus on being a person of character, and you will benefit from the qualities sport builds. Focus on your reputation though, and your self-worth will be attached to what people think of you and your athletic career. 

Always remember that being an athlete is a part of who you are, but it is not who you are. You are made of so much more, and you need to embrace that at all times of your life.

A Disappointing Season

When you have a season or a game that is a complete disaster and goes nothing like you had planned, it can put you in the mental health danger zone. The reason is that you have to endure some tribulation. 

Some people have not accepted yet that life is full of problems and hurdles that we must overcome. If you don't accept this, it will make hurdles seem so much worse because you feel like they are not supposed to be there. 

Winning would not feel so good if it was not for knowing what losing feels like. 

Everyone has had a lousy season or lost a tough game. The reality is that winning would not feel so good if it was not for knowing what losing feels like. 

Disappointment should always be seen as an opportunity to get better instead of failure. Failure means you gave up and the worst case scenario with mental health is suicide because there is no coming back from it. As long as you give yourself another chance to fight, you are not a failure. 


The injury is an enormous frustration for many athletes because it feels like the worst case scenario because you lose your physical fitness. You feel like you don't look like an athlete, and you have to sit out and watch others enjoy what you love. It mentally can play with your mind. 

A lot of athletes suffer from depression when dealing with long-term injuries that put them on the sideline. The key to dealing with an injury is to seek out support. Kho is an injury community that allows you to ask injury questions and also get mental health support. 

You need that support. Outside of just answers, the app allows you to see and hear from others going through the same thing because injury can be lonely. 

You can go from being the star and everything going your way to, in an instant, you're in the hospital and your season is over. Like life, things just move on without you. Time waits for no one because the show must go on.

To make matters worse, you can get healthy and be close to being back and have a relapse that renews all of the frustration. You begin to lose hope and turn to despair, opening the window to mental health issues. 

The best thing you can do during injury is find a community and stay as positive as possible. Visualize yourself being back and healthy and feeling good. Never give up on the fact that it is possible. 


The darkest of all of these moments is easily retirement. Retirement is like taking 10 - 30 years of your life, pouring it into one thing and then having that one thing push you away and say, "I don't love you anymore." Then, you are forced to go and find something else to love, but it is hard because you can't find anything else to love as much. It does not matter what you feel though because you have no choice but to move on. 

You're walking from the bright lights of the stadium into the darkness of the unknown future.

Retirement can hurt because you're walking from the bright lights of the stadium into the darkness of the unknown future. Will you be loved as much there? Will people scream your name? Where will your confidence come from? Who will be your coach? How will you make money? Will you ever get over your sport? 

These are the things that run through your mind that can lead to depression. You feel like nothing can ever make you as happy as your sport, and that puts you in a bad place. 

The truth is that there is life after sport, but you can't wait until you're already retired to start figuring it out. It is not fair to replace something you have had an interest in for one month with something you have been doing your whole life. Begin that transition to loving something else as early as possible. 

If you missed that boat, the first thing to accept is that walking away will be hard. Don't lie to yourself and deny that. A piece of you will always want what you had, but you have to continue to focus on the things that will make you happy today and be thankful for those things. 

In Conclusion

The key to mental health is to realize that being an athlete does not automatically mean it is in a right spot. The same way you work to be physically fit, you must also work to be mentally fit. 

The key areas that can take any athlete from being great mentally, to not doing so well are attaching too much of your self-worth to the sport, disappointment, injury, and retirement. If you can maneuver all of these life changes and setbacks, you will be well on your way to building a robust and resilient mindset.