By Claudia L. Reardon, M.D.
athletes can be at risk for depression. This is the case all the way from the school-aged child playing on a recreational team, up to the professional athlete who makes a living playing his or her sport.
Whenever we see a news story about a famous athlete with depression or an athlete who has committed suicide, it tends to come as a big surprise since athletes tend to be glamorized and admired in our society. However, here are some things we know about the reality of depression in athletes:
1. Athletes seem to be at least as likely as the general population to suffer from depression.
3. Overtraining syndrome can occur in athletes who are seriously training for an event and do so beyond the body’s ability to recover. Overtraining can look very similar to depression and can actually lead to full-blown depression. Like depression, overtraining can include fatigue, insomnia, appetite change, weight loss, difficulties with motivation, and poor concentration. Overtrained athletes usually notice that their sports performance worsens. They may develop more injuries; experience muscle and joint pain, and lose enthusiasm for their sport. If an athlete is overtrained, the treatment is usually to cut back on physical activity or do cross training at a lower intensity until the symptoms start to improve. If overtraining leads to full-blown depression, medication and/or talk therapy may also be helpful.
4. Besides concussions and overtraining, other common factors that can lead to depression in athletes include injuries, competitive failure, aging, retirement from sport, and the same daily stressors that can lead to depression in the general population.
5. In recent years, athletes across several sports have started to open up about their struggles with depression. Hopefully this will help athletes with depression to feel better about seeking help for this disorder.