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.”PAC-12 STANDOUT ISABELLA RONGIONE RETIRES, OPENS UP ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
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.
What are your thoughts about athletes and depression? Do you think it’s genetics? Performance pressure? Or both?