CLEVELAND — Tennis star Naomi Osaka’s story isn’t the first where a professional athlete has brought mental health issues to the public’s attention. In Cleveland, Cavaliers players Kevin Love has been a big advocate by sharing his own experience with depression and anxiety.
Chelsea Penfield, who is heading into her junior year at Cleveland State University on the women’s volleyball team, said while she isn’t faced with the same pressure as professional athletes, she understands the overall mental health pressures within athletics.
“And I think it's something that a lot of people my age and just athletes in general deal with and they're not necessarily aware of it,” she said.
Penfield said these pressures can cause anxiety before games and practices or even affect day-to-day life, especially when it comes to being a woman and body image.
“You can't cry in front of your coach, you can't show emotion. You just need to be a machine. And we're not like that,” Penfield said.
She finds talking to other athletes with shared experiences helps.
“If you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you'll find that others are likely willing to be vulnerable with you,” Penfield said.
Cleveland State also offers a campus counseling center as well as a psychologist dedicated to the sports teams. She says more needs to be done to reduce the stigma of asking for help or expressing mental distress.
For example, she said instead of pointing out an athlete is having a bad game, check in on how they are feeling emotionally.
“It's really 90% mental and 10% physical,” she said.
Dr. Matthew Sacco, a health and sports performance psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, agrees.
He’s been working with athletes as young as 10years old through retirement He says the stigma goes beyond spots.
“I admire a lot of the coaches and the administrators who do take this stuff seriously because sometimes that's how it changes when the people who are doing the work with the athletes and interfacing with them believe it. But we have we were really a really long way to go,” Sacco said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health crisis, you can reach the “National Suicide Hotline” 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-TALK or 8255.
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