Injured Body, Injured Mind
Debilitating Sports Injuries and Effects on Mental Health
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
Traumatic injuries during sports are becoming all too common in teenagers. These season-ending injuries result in immense physical pain and setbacks. What people fail to recognize is how these injuries affect the athletes mentally and emotionally. Teammates, coaches, friends, and family need to become better equipped to support their injured athlete as they recover and try to return back to sports. Most people question “how is your [insert broken body part]?” instead of asking how they really are. People need to be aware of the resources available and understand the mental pain the athlete has to endure. If more players and coaches knew how to support the injured athlete and understand what he or she is going through, the world of sports would be a much more empathetic place. This is what I hope this article accomplishes: more empathy in the world of sports through understanding how injuries affect mental health.
COMMON REACTIONS AFTER INJURY:
- Sadness: 20% of athletes will develop clinical depression after a severe injury. Symptoms include lack of interest in activities, change in sleep and eating behaviors, poor concentration, and suicidal thoughts.
- Isolation: Athletes often feel lonely and left out when they are injured. Jennifer Carter from OSU Sport Psychology said that “your coaches may focus more on healthy athletes, and you might miss out on impromptu social plans made at practice.”
- Anger: Feelings of anger and frustration are very common during the recovery process.
- Stress and Worry: Injured athletes often wonder if they will ever get better or if they will perform well when they get back which can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress.
- Other: Irritation, lack of motivation, frustration, changes in appetite, sleep disturbance, and disengagement are also common reactions after injury.
STUDENT INTERVIEWS AND PERSPECTIVES ON BEING INJURED:
WAYS FOR TEAMMATES AND COACHES TO HELP:
- Be empathetic: try to understand how the athlete is feeling. Ask them how their recovery process is going and do not be afraid to ask how hard it is! Let them know that you understand that they are angry and sad and that it is all right to have those feelings. Try to help them in any way that you can and show them that you care. Doing something as small as carrying their backpack between classes can really make all the difference.
- Give the athlete a role on the team: it can be very beneficial for an athlete to remain involved and part of the team. It can help the athlete not feel completely isolated and left out during recovery and help prevent them from becoming depressed. It can also be beneficial when the athlete returns and does not feel completely behind because she attended practice and games.
- Make sure they are getting the help they need: if the injured athlete exhibits any of the behaviors above, encourage him to talk to someone such as yourself, a coach, or a sports psychologist. If any of these behaviors become more noticeable, a sports psychologist can be a great resource to help the athlete cope with different emotions and help the athlete become comfortable returning to sports.
- Be patient: when the athlete is returning to sports, it can be a long process to get back to where she started. The athlete has just suffered a major blow to her physical abilities and self-worth. It can be very difficult for the athlete to find a position on the team and understand where she belongs and can contribute. Even though it can be hard on the coach to not have the same player back, it is 10 times harder on the athlete! JUST BE PATIENT! She has just spent months working harder than anyone else to be back; she is more determined than ever.
- Encourage: it can be a real confidence blow to not be as fast or strong as you previously were. It takes time to come back from a serious injury and to gain confidence in your skills and body. Many athletes have fear of reinjury which can also prevent them from recovering fast. The best thing coaches and teammates can do is to ENCOURAGE the athlete. Understand that he is still in the recovery process even if cleared to play.
I plan to continue raising awareness and educating my friends, family, coaches, and teammates on how debilitating sports injuries affect mental health in teenagers. I want to meet with my athletic director or principal about implementing a program during professional development days that trains coaches and the athletic department on how to support injured athletes.
TAKE THIS QUIZ TO DETERMINE HOW EMPATHETIC YOU ARE
Share YOUR story below about having a serious injury and how you coped!
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Carter, Jennifer. “Emotional Reactions to Injury.” OSU.edu, 8 April 2015.
Goldberg , Alan. “The Mental Side of Athletic Injuries.” Competitive Advantage: Mental Toughness, 10 June 2016.
“Psychological Issues Related to Illness and Injury in Athletes and the Team Physician: a Consensus Statement.” Current Sports Medicine Reports, American College of Sports Medicine, June 2017.