Bell Let’s Talk Day 2024

Published On: January 24, 2024

This year in recognition of Bell Let’s Talk Day, Game Plan and COPSIN are encouraging athletes and coaches to screen a short documentary talking with athletes about mental health challenges.

CSCM encourages you to watch the video below, and read on for some thoughts and reflections from Kevin Kristjanson, CSCM Psychotherapist.

While you watch, here are some questions to consider:

  • How do you and the people around you talk about mental health? How does this compare to how they talk about physical health?
  • What are your own experiences with mental health, be it your own or somebody close to you?
  • How does sport benefit your mental health and well-being? What challenges does it present?
  • What have you learned about how to take care of your mental health? Are there certain things that make this more or less difficult?

Some people believe that you can either have success in sport or you can take care of your mental health, but you can’t do both. The video speaks to an array of different mental health concepts that are important in recognizing that mental health promotes and improves performance and is not something to be sacrificed:

Continuum of Mental Health

  • Every individual operates on a mental health continuum. Some athletes like to refer to their mental health using the same language as they would their physical health, using works like healthy, hurt, or injured. Others may find it helpful to think of it in terms of a traffic light – green, yellow, red. It’s normal for your mental health to fluctuate and most people have a wide range of experiences. The important thing is checking in with yourself to understand where you are right now and what you can do to help yourself stay well. Pay particular attention to periods of change and transition as these can increase vulnerability to mental health challenges.

Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in High-Performance Sport

  • Recent data suggest about 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental illness in any given year, and about 50% by age 40. Many mental health problems begin to show up during adolescence and early adulthood.
  • Many people believe that elite athletes are less susceptible to mental health challenges, but this is not the case. If anything, the demands and pressures of high-performance sport make it more likely for an athlete to experience mental illness. A survey of Canadian national team athletes training and preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics found that 41.4% met cut-off criteria for one or more mental disorders. Specifically, 31.7% reported symptoms of depression, 18.8% reported moderate to severe anxiety, and 8.6% were at-risk for an eating disorder (Poucher et al., 2021)

Emotional Management, Communication, and Team Dynamics

  • You heard the coach say that he was hesitant to talk about his struggles with the people close to him because he didn’t want to negatively impact them. This is a common attitude, but often an unproductive one. To illustrate this, think of a time when somebody has shared something difficult with you or asked for your advice. How did it make you feel? Maybe…appreciated? Valued? Trusted? Respected? Were you glad to be able to help? Did it bring you closer to that person? Is it possible that other people would feel the same way if you were to ask them for support? What an incredible gift to be able to give someone you care about, to show them how much they mean to you and how highly you think of them.

Resilience and Recovery

  • Resilience is more than just not letting things bother you. It’s about building the confidence that you can experience unpleasant things and persevere anyway. Reframing (i.e., looking for the positives) is a valuable skill to develop, but rushing to do it too soon can be counterproductive. It’s important to give your unpleasant emotions the time they deserve while giving yourself permission to move forward when it’s time. For example, if you stub your toe and you’re still bothered by it a month later, that is probably not respectful of the other goals you have had during that time. But if you lose the championship game or suffer a major injury and immediately start trying to reframe it as a positive thing, that’s probably not respectful to how much it means to you and how painful it is either.

Intersection of Sports and Life

  • Sport is an important part of your life, but it’s not your entire life. Challenges and stressors outside of sport can impact your experience training and competing, the same way the challenges you face as an athlete can affect your life away from your sport. Paying attention to the stressors you are facing in all aspects of your life is an important step in taking care of your mental health as an athlete.

Coping Mechanisms and Identity

  • There are lots of ways to help yourself manage the difficulties you face as an athlete. Some of these strategies can be adaptive, whereas others can be maladaptive. Adaptive strategies are those that help build resilience and tolerance for discomfort, such as active problem-solving, adjusting expectations, regulating emotions, and changing how you think about stressors. Maladaptive coping strategies may include avoidance, rumination or fixation, self-harm or self-injury, or engaging in behaviours to an excessive degree (e.g., compulsive exercise, substance abuse, uncontrolled gambling, binge eating). These maladaptive strategies have a tendency to be effective at reducing distress in the short-term but causing more discomfort in the long-term. It’s always a good idea to examine the coping strategies you are using and ask whether they are actively improving the situation and building your resilience, or whether they are providing a temporary solution that will cause larger problems in the future.

Proactive Mental Health Practices

  • Sport is an important part of your life, but it’s not your entire life. Having reminders of the other important aspects of your life is valuable in making sure your identity is not solely tied to your sport. Taking a proactive approach to mental health that includes accessing personal and professional support is an important pillar in supporting your mental health. Athletes generally don’t step into the weight room for the first time as part of their injury rehab program, so why should they wait for a crisis before supporting their mental health?

If you want to discuss this further, please reach out to your CSCM Mental Health professional or join the conversation on social media.