Top 8 athletes who have spoken out about mental health

We often idealize high-level sport, which we consider to be the perfect way to earn a lot of money while exercising our passion. And it’s true, it’s the case of most of the great professional sportsmen who earn thousands, sometimes even millions while practicing their sport, not a bad situation a priori. However, we tend to forget the intensity, the pressure and the rigor imposed by high-level sport. The media exposure of professional sports doesn’t help either, it creates a greater fear of failure for fear of being judged and criticized.

In short, with all this, some athletes develop anxiety disorders, anxiety, even depression, and yet no one talks about it. Mental health among top athletes is extremely taboo, even in the locker room. Here are 8 examples of athletes who have dared to speak out on these subjects, in order to open their eyes to the mental disorders that professional sport can cause.

1. Naomi Osaka

Tenniswoman Naomi Osaka has openly expressed her anxiety disorders and in particular her difficult management of matches and pressure.

On March 12, the young player broke down in tears after a supporter shouted “Naomi you suck! at the WTA 1000 tournament in Indian Wells. After that, she failed to recover and quickly lost her match to Veronika Kudermetova and was eliminated from the tournament.

The young player has already been world number 1, but has always explained that she suffered from the pressure of high-level sport. We sometimes wonder what is going on in the minds of supporters, who for the most part have never done high-level sport, to allow themselves to insult athletes…

Naomi Osaka calls herself an introvert, and in a way, she suffers from her success. Rarely participating in press conferences, she nevertheless expresses herself via social networks and in particular on her Instagram account, to explain to those who follow her why she has happened to leave major tournaments (like Roland Garros in 2021) and what she feels during these encounters. Passionate about her sport, she does not intend to retire and tries to manage her anxiety in big matches by wearing, for example, a helmet which allows her to cut out outside noise and therefore to concentrate better.

Serena Williams reacted to Naomi Osaka’s remarks by explaining that despite her apparent confidence, she too had been there and had the chance to talk to the right people about these disorders in order to continue to progress in her sport. In short, Osaka is not an isolated case, you will see it in this top, and freeing the floor around anxiety disorders in high-level sport is the “shadow” fight of several professionals.

2. Simone Biles

Simone Biles, considered by many to be the greatest gymnast of all time, retired from the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. She was eagerly awaited by the entire American delegation as one of the athletes who would bring the no more gold medals, but to everyone’s surprise, she withdrew from the team competition.

She explains later by saying that she was under too much pressure: “I don’t have as much self-confidence anymore, I have the impression that I don’t take as much pleasure anymore (…) I have to do this which is good for me and focus on my mental health. “, she said in an interview after leaving the Games.

Biles had also withdrawn from the individual all-around, even though she was the heavy favorite. It must be said that she suffered a lot in her athletic career: she is one of the many victims of Larry Nassar, the former doctor of the United States team, sentenced to 60 years in prison for sexual assault.

Between pressure and bad entourage, Biles dared to put her finger on several huge problems of high-level sport by speaking publicly about the treatment she was following to withstand the pressure of competitions following her more than tumultuous career within the club. American team.

3. Marie-José Perec

One of France’s greatest athletes, an emblematic figure in athletics, left Sydney when she was supposed to participate in the 2000 Olympics.

4 years earlier at the Atlanta Olympics, Marie-José Pérec turned the world of athletics upside down by winning the 200m and 400m, beating the Americans at home, long time queens of the long sprint.

But in 2000, a few days before her race, Marie Jo suffered a verbal attack at the entrance to her hotel room. This event will greatly destabilize her (which is normal) and she will therefore not appear in the 200m and 400m events, where she could have won gold.

Another package of the champion: that of the European championships in 1994 at Bercy. In tension with her coach Piasenta, the athlete decides not to show up for the tests, in fact she did not feel ready and was too afraid of failure and preferred not to run. This “incident” will break any subsequent agreement with her trainer, and that’s why Marie-Jo is going to train in the United States.

Marie-Jo Perec never really talked about her anxieties openly in the face of the media, or in a press conference as Naomi Osaka did, for example, and yet she suffered, like many athletes, from a great fear of failure which sometimes prevented him from taking part in competitions of great importance.

4. Neymar

netflix recently released a documentary on Neymar and his rise, in which we can see the psychological “weaknesses” of the Brazilian player. Neymar is both an adored and hated player, he is one of his personalities which divides enormously.

We see it all the more since he is in Paris, he bears less and less pressure and sometimes develops anxiety disorders. If mental health is a taboo subject in sport, it is perhaps even more so in football, which is the most publicized sport. Football stars are criticized for being capricious, ungrateful, or complaining for nothing when they talk about being under too much pressure, and feeling overwhelmed during a match. Fans whistle, insult and gleefully criticize players when their results are bad or falling, as do the media too.

For players, these criticisms necessarily have more or less significant consequences depending on the player’s level, but also on their level of exposure. In the magazine the teamThierry Henry talks about Neymar’s mental health and his decline in performance, he explains how professional players refrain from expressing their discomfort, as it is taboo.

Neymar therefore recently opened up on the occasion of the release of his documentary on netflix also called “The perfect chaos”. In the latter, the player explains that he obviously had very great moments of joy in the practice of his sport, but also episodes of “quasi” depression, after severe injuries, significant and repeated defeats and above all numerous criticisms. , as is often the case at PSG, in short the Brazilian dares to show his sensitivity, which explains many things and in particular his roller coaster journey in Paris.

5. Gregory van der Wiel

Former PSG player, the Dutch defender had a long period of emptiness, without a club, before finding a new club. After a forced departure from Toronto, a club in which he felt very well, Gregory van der Wiel began to experience anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders. He explains this in a long letter addressed to both supporters and the media, which he publishes in particular on his social networks. Gregory van der Wiel thus states “As a professional football player I always had the pressure to show the best side of myself, no matter how I was actually feeling” .

After that, he finally finds his happiness in the Dutch club RKC Waalwijk. The footballer dared to warn on the subject of mental health in football, and that is also why the RKC Waalwikj club wanted to recruit him, this small Dutch club wanted to rebuild the player at the end of his career, allowing him to have more time to think about a retraining.

6. DeMar DeRozan

On the weekend of the NBA All-Star Weekend, an ultra-high-profile sporting event organized by the NBA, basketball player DeMar DeRozan had published a tweet “depression is taking over”, opening the floor on his moral state.

DeMar DeRozan later backtracked on that statement, and had the courage to say he wasn’t ashamed to speak openly about his mental health. Between personal problems and pressure due to the sport, the basketball player had trouble performing on the pitch, and he preferred to explain why, by lifting the veil on his situation.

7. Sebastian Deisler

Playing in the best German club, and one of the best European clubs, Bayern Munich, Sebastian Deisler nevertheless retired early because of his mental health.

Between November 2003 and June 2004 the player stayed away from the pitch due to his depression. In 2006, when he was expected for the world, he was hospitalized in the psychiatric clinic in Munich. His story is widely publicized and it is the first time that such a problem in a footballer has come to light. Obviously his absence on the field divides, many people tolerate that a footballer is absent if he has a broken leg but much less if he suffers psychologically. The Bayern club will take this very seriously and offer the care of a psychologist (in addition to the mental trainer) to each of the players.

Finally Sebastian Deisler will retire prematurely, but his journey will have opened the eyes of many supporters, journalists but also sports professionals on mental health problems among footballers.

8. Pascal Pape

Finally, these disorders obviously also exist in rugby, and are also very taboo. Former player of the XV of France, Castres and Stade Français, Pascal Papé returned to his long states of depression, which had made a lot of talk about him.

After a serious back injury appeared during a match against Italy Papé is forced to stop all practice of the sport, and he finds himself alone and facing himself, with the fear of never regaining his level before. . After long months of depression during which he no longer sleeps, he attempts suicide and is saved by his adoptive father. While in hospital he wrote a book telling his story, called Double-dealing. This book goes back to his difficulty in always keeping this hard and insensitive rugby face, all the more so after such a serious injury. Pascal Papé opens the dialogue on the feelings and the pressure that most rugby players feel, which they obviously refrain from expressing publicly.

Today, Pascal Papé is in charge of training young people at the Stade Français, and he does not hesitate to ask his young players to express themselves about how they feel in order to better manage the pressure they are under. .

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