This World Health Day, Lets Talk Depression

This World Health Day, Lets Talk Depression

In the spirit of the ever-ambitious Aires, each year the World Health Organization, celebrates its April birthday with an awareness campaign about the most prominent global health concerns. 2017 marks the 67th World Health Day. This year's campaign focuses on depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide with more than 300 million people living with the mental illness.


According to a study by Georgetown University Medical Center, current college athletes face an increased risk of depression compared to former college athletes from years ago. Female athletes are twice as likely to show signs of depression than male athletes. In NCAA Division 1 Soccer, 31 percent of female players show symptoms of depression compared to 13 percent of male soccer players.

Depression can easily overshadow a soccer players' competitive edge. Athletes predisposed to severe mood changes are often at war with a genetic energy leech that is beyond their control. Since seeds of mental health disorders often sprout in the teen and young adult years, players who are at the top of their game may experience changes in mood and behavior well into their career.

College athletes are more susceptible to mental illness since they face stressors that can aggravate an underlying chemical imbalance. In 2013, mental health was the No. 1 health and safety concern in the NCAA. The pressure to perform and maintain scholarships, while balancing studies and classwork with practice on the field can all contribute to mental health struggles, such as depression.

Due to lack of awareness, athletes may not always be provided or utilize the proper resources. The chemical imbalance in neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that influence mood and behavior) present in players with mental health disorders is not always properly addressed. It’s far easier to sideline a player with a visible injury like a sprained ankle than something less tangible like a mood disorder.

Athletes should keep in mind there are similarities between clinical depression and overtraining. Overtraining syndrome affects more than half of professional soccer players during a five-month competitive season. High-stress training sessions lead to high cortisol levels, suppressing the immune system and leading to central fatigue. Overtraining and major depression have many of the same symptoms, including general fatigue, insomnia, change in appetite, lack of concentration and weight loss.

If a player is to perform at her best level physically, she must also perform at optimal mental health. Often, the common response from athletes dealing with these changes is too push harder, hamster-wheeling their way to complete burnout or an eating disorder. The appropriate response is to back off the training, focus on self-care and consider medication to restore function. In over-trained athletes, or those newly diagnosed with a mental health condition, finding an appropriate balance for optimal performance is key.

Here are warning signs to look out for in a soccer player who you believe is struggling with depression:

  • Feelings of anger and irritability that persist for days
  • Changes in mood, energy level or appetite
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Physical complaints, such as headaches, stomachaches and back aches
  • Inability to maintain a former level of excitement
  • Sleep patterns including sleeping too much or too little
  • Difficulty concentrating or restlessness
  • Drug or alcohol use or other high risk activities
  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Obsessive thinking interfering with work, family, performance or social life

Thank you, World Health Organization, for shining some light on just how prevalent depression is. Lets keep the conversation going.

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