For those following cricket, the Royal London One-Day Cup series were played through July, with the Royal London ODI series continuing into August and September. And now we have the Olympics with enough different disciplines to keep many of us glued to the TV for a short time at least.
Watching these top athletes competing in what is arguably the leading international sporting event of the calendar must inspire many to ‘up our game’ in an activity we already enjoy – let’s face it, the abilities of these Olympians and Paralympians are inspirational. At the very least, you’d hope this spectacle of sporting excellence would encourage some of us to get off the sofa and move about a bit more considering how often we’re told how overweight we are as a nation.
Medical professionals tell us that exercise is good for both our physical and mental health1. With the physical benefits of exercise, or lack of it, being fairly visible, it can be easier to overlook or just ignore mental health concerns. Just last year, mental illness was one of the top three reasons for an income protection claim which perhaps shows these issues are more prevalent than you might think2.
Exercise and mental health
Exercise can be prescribed as part of a course of treatment for mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. It doesn’t have to be too strenuous either – a brisk walk has been shown to increase alertness, energy and positive mood1.
Yet in spite of their obvious physical prowess it could come as a surprise that elite sportspeople are susceptible to mental health issues too. While their job may seem less stressful than our 9 to 5 jobs, usually with a hefty salary to pay for many comforts to make life easier, they have a unique set of pressures. From winning their race or match to living up to high public expectations, and then there’s the strain of permanently living under the watchful eye of the media.
As sportspeople, you pride yourself on being mentally strong and ruthless, all the attributes that lead to competitive performance.
With one in four of us being affected by mental illness every year, it should come as no surprise that some sufferers will come from the world of sport. Yet the actual number of athletes affected is unknown, possibly because of the stigma attached to mental health issues and the worry about the impact on their career3.
This stigma does seem to be slowly being eroded with the honesty of sportspeople who have experienced issues themselves. In May, cricket’s Monty Panesar admitted to having anxiety and paranoia that needed medication4. And you might have read just a couple of months ago in our blog Keep Calm and Carry on? that boxer Ricky Hatton has struggled for a time with mental health issues.
Perhaps just being more open, by talking and reading about mental health issues in everyday situations we can remove some of the mystery and shame associated with it.
- Royal London UK protection business claims paid (1 January to 31 December 2015)
- Performance matters: mental health in elite sport. www.mind.org.uk