Competitive athletes have unique vulnerabilities to mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar. Despite the inherent stigma, professional athletes continue to publicly share their mental health struggles to help others.
Elite athletes endure intense pressure to perform, often contending with fierce public scrutiny while competing in a culture that historically discourages them from seeking help for mental health concerns. From an early age, these competitors are coached to be invincible, to be physically and mentally superior. Yet anxiety-based fears about performance and depression following an injury can lead to psychological distress. The personal stigma among athletes is lessening, thanks to the sporting legends and current competitors who are speaking out and breaking barriers to help create an environment supportive of mental well-being.
This motorsport champion in off-road trucks and motorcycles told bp Magazine that racing is part of his treatment regime, and the only time he feels in control of his thoughts and experiences “true” mental peace. “I’ve always said that the helmet is my medication … there’s something about being able to put my helmet over my face right before I race that takes away the outside chaos and keeps me focused. It’s pretty amazing.”
Former pro golfer (with 10 international wins) turned commentator and humorist Feherty has lived a life with several challenges including, ADD and bipolar depression. “You know, I tell people I don’t suffer from bipolar disorder, I live with it,” he told Rolling Stone magazine. As an upside: “I see from a different side of the street than most people. And I think one of the reasons I got hired to do commentary is the ability to describe something differently.”
This former basketball superstar and Olympic gold medalist was initially diagnosed with major depression in 2004, then was re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder when antidepressants triggered mania and sent her into over-the-top spending sprees. Her message to others living with bipolar: “I want them to understand it can get better. I went through a period when I had no hope, when I didn’t want to be here,” she revealed to bp Magazine. “I hope they see my journey and get inspired to keep moving forward every day … and utilize the resources around them.”
The most decorated Olympian in all of history opened up in esperanza magazine about how his life spiraled into a deep depression while he was battling anxiety issues and substance abuse and how he regained his passion again. “With athletes or celebrities, people think they’re so much different than everybody else. But I’ve gone through the same troubles. Sharing these stories, and having people come up [and say you’ve helped], it’s almost like I feel more human. That’s what I love the most.”
This former Olympic swimmer and seven-time medalist has battled bulimia, unhealthy relationships, drug abuse, clinical depression, and self-harm. “Some days, it was hard to just get out of bed,” Beard told esperanza magazine. “There were all these great things going on in my life, but on the inside, I hated everything about [myself].” Her life turned around when she found medication and therapy.
The former NFL linebacker had a long history of battling heavy drinking, anxiety, depression, and manic episodes, until he was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “I was mentally in a cold, dark, sad place, and no one could help me,” he told bp Magazine. “Finding the right medications, along with my faith, has made all the difference in the world.” He’s now tackling stigma and helping to raise awareness about mental health.
The former NHL goaltender is best known for surviving a devastating injury on the ice in 1989—witnessed by a nation of TV viewers tuned into a Buffalo Sabres game—when a skate blade slashed his neck. Following that incident, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcoholism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) plagued Malarchuk. Pulling himself out of depression with the help of medication, talk therapy, and meditation, he says, “I realize now that playing hockey gave me the platform for my real purpose—to raise awareness of mental illness, and to help reduce the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety so that no one has to feel alone.”
The former Olympic runner experienced intense hypersexuality linked with her bipolar I disorder and struggled with acute peripartum depression. “In my case, my bipolar was driving me toward sex. It could have just as easily been driving me toward drugs and alcohol or gambling,” she told bp Magazine. “The message, though, is that it can be treated if diagnosed correctly, with the help of medical people and family and friends. There is hope, and I’m living proof.”
While celebrated as an NFL star quarterback, Bradshaw is also a broadcaster, writer, musician, and actor. He was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1999 after experiencing anxiety attacks, intense anger, alcohol abuse, and sleeplessness. He now maintains his mental health with medication, therapy, and faith. “You know what, I’m not ashamed of who I am,” he told esperanza magazine. “It’s the way I was made. I just got some issues here, and I dealt with them. And I’m proud of it.”
This Olympic figure-skating legend was diagnosed with depression in 1993 and has a strong familial history of anxiety and depression. She attests that having a core support group, medication, and therapy helped her find happiness. She is now a motivational speaker for others with mental health challenges. “I think it’s important for people to know that just because it looks like everything’s fabulous on the outside, it isn’t always.”
Haley was the first five-time Super Bowl champion, from his time with the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2002, a few years after he left the NFL, Haley was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after which he spent a decade battling substance abuse, a common symptom of bipolar. At 56, he says he found balance through medication, regular therapy, and participating in a men’s prayer group. He also does charity work and mentors football players.
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs.
As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
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