What to know about mental health in teen athletes – Daily News

By Dr. Drew Watson, American Academy of Pediatrics

Mental illness is an extremely common and important issue among teenagers. Although sports and physical activity have tremendous mental health benefits, young athletes are not exempt from the ongoing mental health crisis.

In fact, some potential effects of being a competitive athlete, like perfectionism, external pressures to perform or severe injuries, may increase the risk of mental illness. Improving mental health and well-being can not only help make young athletes feel better, it can even have important benefits for performance and reducing illness and injury risk.

The single most important thing parents can do is create a safe environment for your child that promotes ongoing conversations about mental health.

Assure your child that they can tell you anything, without judgment. Recognize and communicate to your child that mental health is health. The goal is to normalize conversations about it. Bring up the topic of mental health yourself, and make yourself available when your child wants to talk.

Watch for symptoms of anxiety, which can include:

  • Significant worries about things before they happen
  • Constant concerns about family, school, friends or activities
  • Fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
  • Low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence

Some symptoms of depression can include:

  • Feeling or appearing depressed, sad, tearful or irritable
  • Loss of interest in friends, academics or activities
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Sleeping more or less than usual; having more trouble concentrating
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide

If you think your child is struggling with their mental health, talk with them and help them get help.

Encourage athletes to talk with you or with other family members, friends and health care providers. You can also call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (9-8-8).

If you feel your child is experiencing a mental health emergency (expressing an intent to harm themselves or others), call 911 or go to the emergency department.

Remember, if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s mental health, don’t hesitate to talk with your pediatrician.


Drew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness. He practices pediatric sports medicine within the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin–Madison and is a team physician for the university’s athletic department.

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