Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Suicide Prevention Month: Athletes and Suicide

As September comes to a close, so does Suicide Awareness Month, but should be in the spotlight year round.Sports, athletes, and poor mental health at first glance may seem like a game of "one of these things does not belong", as usually athletes appear to be stronger than an average person in both body and mind, but these people are often at higher risks at suicide due to added personal and external pressure athletes face.

Athlete and Suicide Facts

The facts, however, show that athletes are not immune to mental health issues. Just looking at a recent study of NCAA Athletes shows that the annual rate of suicide for male athletes was 1.35 per 100,000, and for female athletes it was 0.37 per 100,000. Among black athletes, the annual rate was 1.22 per 100,000, and among white athletes, the rate was 0.87 per 100,000 students. The highest rate of suicide occurred in football, with a rate of 2.25 instances of suicide per 100,000 athletes, which is partially explained by the result of head trauma. 

Generalizing these numbers, it's about 2 suicides per 200,000 athletes a year. A low estimate are that there are 460,000 NCAA Athletes competing each year. This means every year there will be approximately 4 student athletes who commit suicide each year. Over the 9 year study, there were 477 student-athlete deaths, and suicide represented 35 of these deaths, and the leading preventable cause of death during this time. This study doesn't include high school athletes or professional athletes, where in that case the number would likely be tripled. 

Preventable Disease

Often athletes are put on pedestals, basically local heroes, leading it to be difficult to accept their own personal struggles when everything would lead it to appear they are living the dream. However like mentioned previously, these deaths can be avoided with increased awareness, and removing the stigma of mental health. Nobody looks down on athletes when they have a ligament tear and have to take care of themselves or go to extra rehab, however as long as the cloud over mental health issues remain, student-athletes will not get the help they need as they try to ignore their problems.  

Photo credit ESPNW

The recent ivy league freshman, Madison Holleran, who committed suicide last year wrote in her note to her family, "I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out, and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in" and friends and family spoke how in the months leading up to her death she often spoke of her unhappiness and pressure she felt, and often discussed transferring. 

 A football player at Ohio State University wrote in his final note to his mother that his "head was messed up", and a former Chicago Bears safety's lone message in his note was requesting his brain be studied for possible damage. Shortly before junior Seau's death as well, he made a comment to his friends and family that he wanted his brain to go to science for the study of concussive injuries. 

What you can do

The goal of Suicide Prevention month is to help raise awareness and get others educated. When talking to teammates, friends, or family members try to pay attention. Usually they aren't looking for a fix, rather just looking to feel validated and not have their feelings minimized. Often those that appear to have so much going right for them feel guilty complaining and don't understand what they are feeling, and often there are "red flags" that survivor's family and friends only realize when it's too late.

Many schools require an ECG to prevent this sudden and preventable disease, but data shows the number of student athletes' death caused by cardiovascular disease is in fact lower than the amount of student athletes who commit suicide every year. It's pretty routine to have concussion screening to help prepare for a concussion, why not a similar mandatory screening for mental health at the beginning of the season as well? Once depression is treated as a real mental illness rather than a sign of weakness, these suicides will continue to happen. Some of the world's most influential, strong, and powerful leaders have suffered with depression, including Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Beethoven.

Depression in Athletes Quick Facts

Who Suffers from Depression?

  • 20 Million People in US
  • People with family history of depression
  • 10% of those are under 18
  • Women are impacted twice as much as men

Symptoms of Depression

  • Constant sense of fatigue
  • Increased desire to sleep
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of appetite, changes in weight
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
Causes of Depression in Athletes
  • Genetic Predispositions
  • Injury
  • Over Training
  • Pressure by Coaches, teammates, self
  • Lack of Time
  • Feeling Overwhelmed

No comments:

Post a Comment