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Ask an Edge Expert: September 2017 Edition

Posted on: September 5, 2017

School is back in session and so is athletics. This is a great blog on what parents can look for and the professionals that can help!

September 2017

Featured Expert: Kelsey Ruffing, LPC

Title: Assessing Mental Health in Athletes & Seeking Help When Needed

Athletes are a tricky bunch when it comes to receiving mental health services for psychological distress. Although the field of sport psychology is growing and becoming more acceptable within the professional sports realm, there is a difference between utilizing a sport psychologist to achieve personal greatness and utilizing a sport psychologist for help with anxiety or depression. One example looks at the positive side of athletics, using performance enhancement skills in order to move towards a performance goal. The other example is personal, focusing on an issue, triggering emotion and creating vulnerability. Ask any athlete if they want to discuss emotions and be vulnerable and they will most likely tell you no way. According to research, some of the barriers to seeking help for athletes are:

  1. Athletes are more prone to see counseling as a weakness
  2. Athletes are accustomed to working through pain and strife, therefore they have difficulty admitting or identifying they need help
  3. The stigma assigned to counseling/therapy/psychology, “I’m crazy if I go to therapy”


Mental health factors most certainly impact an athlete’s ability to perform at their best and if they truly want to reach peak performance, they may have to confront their underlying issues (anxiety, depression family issues) first in order to accomplish their personal goals.


As a parent of an athlete, there are signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect your child may be struggling with psychological distress. Maybe you have noticed their performance has not been as good as it usually is, or they avoid going to practices now. Maybe the coach has approached you about some concerns or your athlete is saying “they just are not as into it as they used to be”. These are all red flags that there is more going on inside the brain that may need the help of a mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, or sport psychologist. The most common mental health issues among athletes are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Disordered Eating
  • Obsessive Compulsive tendencies

It is also important to know there is an increased risk of mental health concerns when an athlete becomes injured. Research shows injured athletes are more likely to experience thoughts of suicide than athletes who is not injured. There are five factors of suicidality in athletes after injury:

  1. Their success prior to injury
  2. Serious injury (requiring surgery)
  3. Length of rehabilitation (long, restricted play)
  4. Inability to return to sport
  5. Replaced by teammate


The greatest factor of the 5, to impact the likelihood of suicidal tendencies, was the seriousness of the injury. The more serious the injury, the more likely it would be for that athlete to be depressed and have thoughts of suicide.


Warning Signs of Depression

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, irritability lasting longer than 2 weeks
  • Impaired function in social, occupational, educational settings
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in daily activities
  • Significant weight change or loss of appetite
  • Change is sleep patters
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Diminished ability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  • Suicidality- Thoughts of suicide, plan or intent


Who can help?

A licensed professional such as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Psychologist, or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) are all individuals who are trained to help individuals with depression, anxiety and several other mental health concerns. There are also mental health professionals that specialize in the field of Sport Psychology and have extended training working with athletes. These professionals usually have a Master’s or Doctorate within Sport Psychology or a Master’s or Doctorate in Clinical Psychology or Counseling Psychology with a special emphasis in Sport Psychology.