Prioritizing Mental Health in Athletics

Despite their extraordinary abilities, athletes are not immune to the challenges that come with navigating the stress and pressure of competition and public attention. Unfortunately, the need to support athletes’ mental health has traditionally been ignored, minimized, or downright rejected. Recently, more athletes have begun to open up and shed light on this overlooked issue.

The Hidden Battle: Mental Health Neglect in Sports Culture

In the race for victory and accolades, the mental well-being of athletes is frequently overshadowed by the spotlight on physical performance. The relentless pursuit of success has created a culture that downplays mental health concerns, deeming them secondary to winning at all costs. Athletes who take a break are shamed for “letting down the team” or “disappointing the fans.” This neglect, however, has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the arena. Ignoring the psychological impact of the pressure athletes endure can lead to burnout, anxiety, and even depression, significantly affecting their quality of life and increasing their risk for substance abuse and suicide.

Athletes Breaking the Stigma

Recent years have seen a remarkable shift as athletes, once silent about their mental struggles, have begun to open up. Simone Biles, renowned US Olympic gymnast, drew intense scrutiny and support when she withdrew from the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo ahead of the final, citing mental health as the reason. Later she opened up about her struggles, and ended up taking a two year break. Ricky Rubio, a player in the NBA, recently announced that he was stepping off the court for a mental health hiatus ahead of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, where he was set to lead the Spanish national team.

By sharing their own experiences with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, these athletes are breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in sports. Their stories are sparking conversations that promote understanding and acceptance, encouraging other athletes to prioritize their mental well-being. Their courageous decision to make their need for mental health care known shines a spotlight on an issue that has gone unheeded for too long, and changes to the culture of sports and the support athletes receive will undoubtedly follow.

Changing the Narrative

The recent public statements by athletes, paired with an increased focus on mental health since the COVID-19 pandemic, hail a cultural shift of seeing athletes as more than performance machines and recognizing their need for mental health support. 

While increased awareness is good, the shift will not happen without building programs and support around mental health into athletics. Teams and athletic departments must dedicate funding to wellness programs and mental health professionals. Coaches and support staff need to be trained to recognize the signs of declining mental health. Regulations must be established to protect the mental wellbeing of college athletes. Above all, the focus for every sports organization should be on creating an environment and culture where athletes feel safe enough to be honest about how they are doing.

Therapy for Athletes in California

At Medens Health, we recognize the need for a shift in the landscape of mental health in athletics. We are proud to count Gabriella Vinokur among our providers, who specializes in providing support to athletes. As a former competitive figure skater, Gabriella has firsthand experience in the challenges that athletes face.

“I was born in Russia, where I began figure skating at the age of three. As I advanced in my athletic career, I realized that many athletes struggle with mental health, but don’t have resources to get support or don’t feel that they can ask for help. I wanted to be part of the solution, so I decided to study Psychology and offer much-needed support to athletes. I have developed a holistic approach to address the unique needs of competitive athletes and promote overall balance, health, and optimal success.”

Through personalized support, she empowers athletes to achieve their full potential not only on the field, but also in their personal lives. If you’re looking for therapy for athletes in California, reach out to Medens Health to schedule a session with Gabriella. You can get started here, or contact us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.