"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Pro-athletes are scoring goals with fans, revealing their mental health struggles.

On June 5, 2024, the Boston Red Sox designated relief pitcher Chris Martin On the 15-day injured list. It wasn't for a shoulder, a decent elbow or a tweaked groin.

It was for trouble.

Historically, MLB's injured list was used for these players. Physical injuries. If players waste time. Due to mental health disordersthe reason given to the media and the general public was often deliberately vague: “personal reasons.”

When players spoke openly about their struggles, many reporters and fans criticized or questioned these assessments. In 2009, The New York Times published an article citing a psychologist who suspected that an expert baseball player might suffer from social anxiety disorder.

“In baseball, you don't hit most of the time and you make mistakes some of the time. You learn to deal with it.” The psychologist told the newspaper. “A person with social anxiety disorder could never play from scratch.”

Loads has modified since 2009. There is a deal with ensuring that skilled athletes have access to mental health support.

The NBA launched its own mental health program in 2018, requiring every team to have one. Licensed mental health professional available. For players and staff. The NFL also mandates that teams maintain no less than one behavioral health clinician on site. twice a week.

But what do fans think? Are athletes with mental health problems considered weak? Do they grow to be less likable?

In a series of studiesmy colleagues and I actually have seen fans reply to players openly about their mental health struggles, and even day without work.

Expectations of mental 'toughness'

Although progress has been made within the last two years. The yearmany individuals still have a tough time opening up about their mental health struggles within the workplace.

According to the 2022 global survey58% of respondents said they feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health issues at work. Many of them are afraid. Their struggle is being punished..

In sports, the situation might be even worse.

Experience of elite athletes a High prevalence of mental health problems Compared to the final population, because of the sports culture that emphasizes mental toughness. Regular treatment of physical injuries is seen as part and parcel of the job. But getting help for mental health problems might be seen. A sign of weakness.

This cultural stigma prevents athletes from talking about their mental health. Some of them may fear rejection or distrust from teammates and fans. Others may worry about missing out on sponsorship opportunities or major contracts. Poor mental health literacy It also acts as a further barrier between many players and coaches.

However, the narrative is slowly changing, as due to high-profile athletes Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Ah, Wilson And Michael Phelps who've come forward with their mental health struggles in recent times. Their stories, featured in mainstream media and sports networks, have helped the general public recognize that these iconic athletes are only as vulnerable to mental health conditions as anyone else.

A turning point

A pivotal moment got here when the tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew From the 2021 French Open, citing mental health reasons

Organizers of Grand Slam tournaments Osaka was fined and threatened. If he didn't fulfill his media obligations, he can be disqualified and face a future ban, which resulted in Osaka withdrawing from the tournament.

The decision sparked a heated debate. Various media outlets and fans Criticized Osaka.arguing that as an expert athlete, managing media duties was a part of his job.

However, some notable figures including Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova have praised her for prioritizing her mental health. Nike, considered one of its major sponsors, publicly supported his decision and stood by him in the course of the conflict.

I 2022 studyWe analyzed public reactions on social media to Osaka's actions. On Twitter – now referred to as X – we were surprised to see the outpouring of support: 51% of all related posts and replies praised his decision. Only 19% expressed negative feelings, while the remaining 30% were neutral.

Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the 2021 French Open, citing mental health issues.
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Osaka was featured. On the cover of Time magazine – not because he won one other Grand Slam tournament, but because he sparked a wider conversation about mental health in sports. Later that summer, gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the ladies's team gymnastics final on the Tokyo Olympics. Citing mental health reasons.

Osaka's actions also spurred changes in league governance. The Grand Slam Committee, which imposed a positive for not holding a press conference in the course of the 2021 French Open Committing to address concerns about athletes' mental health.

Humanized player

In our latest studywe desired to explore how fans perceive athletes who disclose mental health issues versus those that discuss their physical injuries.

Was there any truth to the stigma feared by some players and coaches?

We presented 255 participants living within the United States with two scenarios. In one, there was an athlete who took a break because of mental health struggles. In one other, the athlete took day without work to take care of a physical injury.

The difference in conditions was the one reason for the player's time-off. Respondents were randomly assigned to considered one of two conditions. After reading their assigned scenario, they then rated their level of heat toward the athlete and the extent to which they perceived the athlete as competent.

Based on our results, it seems that concerns about reactivity are largely unfounded.

In fact, study participants actually felt more warmth toward athletes with mental health conditions. And they saw them as able-bodied athletes who needed to take care of physical injuries.

In other words, fans seem to understand athletes who initiate these difficult conversations and prioritize their mental well-being. As for athletes who fear losing sponsorship deals for going public with their mental health issues, if anything, fans might even see them as more personal and relatable. , enhance their appeal as brand ambassadors.

That's what happened to Chris Martin.

The fans, teammates and media helped in a giant way. The club's manager, Alex Cora, Appreciated Martin. For being open about your struggles, As did Chief Baseball Officer Craig Breslow..

To me, it's clear that the tide is popping. Players now not need to suffer in silence.