Retired athletes spar with mental health

Walking away from the sport they love is hard for athletes but many also find retirement is riddled with major psychological hurdles.

Flinders University psychologist Ashley Montero and colleagues surveyed more than 600 athletes from around the world to gain insights into sleep and mental health issues athletes face before and after retirement.

“Evidence suggests that athletes are disproportionately affected by mental health issues and sleep problems, with many factors and pressures contributing to their psychological distress,” the PhD candidate said.

The survey included responses from amateur, semi-professional and university level athletes.

The findings published this month in Frontiers in Psychology show athletes are hesitant in opening up about their mental health struggles, with up to a third of current and former athletes battling anxiety and depression.

Even Australian tennis champion Ash Barty, who retired in March after winning the Australian Open, previously took a break from the sport as a rising teen because of burnout and depression.

That psychological toll can manifest in destructive disorders leading to self-harm and even suicide after they’ve hung up their boots.

Mr Montero says retired athletes, especially those who quit because of injuries, “are often psychologically unprepared for this drastic lifestyle change” after years of gruelling training and tough competition.

“While sleep and mental health are important aspects of human health, these disorders can be overlooked or undiagnosed in sport because of a negative stigma or perceived repercussions of seeking help”.

Apart from the perceived stigma associated with opening up about mental health, athletes also might not know where to turn for support.

The researchers recommended “more targeted therapies” to ease athletes’ transition to retirement.

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Farid Farid
(Australian Associated Press)

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