Is it genetics or performance pressure ?

swimmer with JO medal
My daughter with a Junior Olympic medal as a young teen.

Yesterday I wrote about Amy Osaka and her withdrawal from the French Open due to her taking care of her mental health. You can read that post here.

Immediately after I posted that story, I ran across a SwimSwam article about a swimmer retiring because of her mental health. I remember this swimmer because she was at the big meets in Southern California as one of the youngest, if not the youngest swimmer entered — and she was from Virginia! She was very fast, too. She held the national age group record for 11-12 years olds in the mile.

“Isabella Rongione announced the end of her competitive swimming career, opening up about her personal struggles and the need to put her mental health first.”

by Jared Anderson SWIMSWAM

Rongione shared the news in an Instagram post this week. Her last swim came in December of 2018, the month before Rongione says he was admitted to treatment following a suicide attempt.

“My mental health had to be the priority over the past couple years and I never was able to fully commit to getting back into the pool,” Rongione writes.

“To all those athletes dealing with mental health issues — make sure to take the time you need in order to heal yourself properly.”

There are many famous athletes who suffer from depression including Michael Phelps, Amy Osaka, Allison Schmitt (Olympic swimmer) and Serena Williams. You can read about 10 of these athletes here. I wonder if it’s genetics or the pressure with being an athlete at such a young age?

My daughter who was a swimmer at a high level (college scholarship athlete and high school All American) suffered from anxiety and then depression while swimming in college. She swam competitively from age five through 22 — when her shoulder gave up on her.

Looking back, we were such enthusiastic parents cheerleading her swim career along the way. It was exciting and took over a lot of our family’s life. Did we create an unsustainable path for her? What happens when the swim career, the center of her world and identity ends? Or in the case of someone like Amy Osaka or Isabella Rongione, is the pressure to perform too much?

Here’s a study published online from Cambridge University by Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey called Setting the bar: athletes and vulnerability to mental illness.

Risk factors for athletes

“Although moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is important in the prevention of and recovery from mental and physical health problems, when performed more intensely at ‘professional/elite’ levels, physical activity can compromise health. 1,5 Beyond the national prestige, fame and glory of Olympic success lies the darker side of overexposure to elite sport such as overtraining, injury, burnout, increased risk for sudden cardiac death and other non-cardiovascular conditions such as respiratory symptoms, iron deficiency, increased incidence of allergies, immunological suppression and infection, gastrointestinal symptoms, diabetes mellitus and eating disorders. 6

“Athletes may also be vulnerable to mental illness for several reasons. First, the social world of many organised elite sports is one that requires investments of time and energy, often resulting in a loss of personal autonomy and disempowerment for athletes. 7 The elite-sport environment can result in ‘identity-foreclosure’ leaving athletes few other avenues through which to shape and reflect personality. 7 High athletic identity has been linked to psychological distress when this function of identity is removed, and to overtraining and athlete burnout. 7 The latter conditions strongly correlate with affective disorders such as major depressive disorder.”

I also read that 30% of NCAA athletes report having depression. It could have only gotten worse this past year.

young swimmer getting medals from coach.
My daughter, age 5, receiving medals, ribbons and applause from her coach after a swim meet.

What are your thoughts about athletes and depression? Do you think it’s genetics? Performance pressure? Or both?

10 and unders relay team with medals at JOs
My daughter’s relay team after winning third place at Junior Olympics in Southern California.

13 thoughts on “Is it genetics or performance pressure ?

  1. Are we as parents responsible for our kids to reach burn out before they graduate? We didn’t push our kids to excel in sports, we helped as long as they were having fun and wanting to participate, but when it did not become fun and they didn’t looked forward to it, we backed off. Neither we athletically inclined, but music was another matter. They loved it, so we sent them to summer camp.

  2. 💜 Thank YOU!!! for This Courageous Post SupaSoulSis; it’s a Pleasure to Share and Serve, Stay Strong and Serene


  3. I think anyone is likely to suffer from depression. Depression doesn’t care about intelligence, ability or social status. It takes many prisoners. We have a huge suicide and addiction problem due to depression. We have to all ask ourselves why our children are suffering …and it can’t be things like climate change or politics or worrying about getting a job. We’ve given them the freedom to be anything they want…and it’s still not enough

      • Personally…I think a lot of it is because we want to be “friends” with our kids and therefore never tell them “no”. We also think that material goods solve everything. But that’s just if the top of my head

      • I also think our generation is way too involved in our kids daily lives. Our parents were hands off and more free range.

      • Though…my mother was way more involved with me…she was really strict and overbearing. I’m a lot looser with my daughter than how I was raised. My mother still tells me what to do. But yes…a large part is not allowing kids to make their own decisions.

      • And not letting them fail early on and learn from their mistakes. I wonder if your mom was an outlier? I look at my own mom and we practically raised ourselves.

  4. 💜 Why did YOU!!! Delete My Comment SupaSoulSis; it’s NOT!!! that I Care in The Slightest, I Just Have a Mental Health Academic Curiosity in Knee Jerk ReActions 🤔 ?


  5. If I remember correctly, people who have extended exposure to adrenaline often suffer depression as a side effect.

    high VS low

    Just a thought

Leave a Reply