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.”

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.

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.

Amy Osaka — did she make the right decision?

Waffles the pug
Waffles, my daughter’s emotional support animal, has given her much needed comfort this past year.

I read this piece about Amy Osaka today. I’ve seen her name in the news, but until this morning I hadn’t read the stories. What I gleaned, the 23-year-old tennis super star is suffering from mental health issues and doesn’t want to speak to the press. She knew she’d be fined, she was okay with that. But in the end, she decided to withdraw from the French Open. I was interested in Osaka’s story because depression and anxiety are not foreign in my family tree. Here’s more from the article:

“Mental difficulty can be mysterious, even to the sufferer. We’re also still amid a pandemic in which ordinary interactions with other people have been stifled, and routines and lives have been disrupted. If you’re doing OK, it’s tempting to think everyone else should be doing OK, too. That’s not the way it goes, however. A little bit of empathy can go a long way.”

Listening to Naomi Osaka
Sports are getting more attuned to mental health, but there’s still a long way to go
Wall Street Journal By Jason Gay
Updated June 2, 2021 8:44 am ET

“On the matter of Naomi Osaka and the French Open: I suspect a day will come when people will look back upon this moment and be mystified by how agitated it all got, how a player opting out of routine press conferences and deciding to leave a tournament because of concern about her own mental health became such a global uproar. I suspect there will be a time in the future when an athlete’s revelation of depression and anxiety—or anyone’s revelation of depression and anxiety—won’t launch a zillion casual diagnoses or judgments about an alleged lack of mettle.

“I think (I hope!) we’re going to reach a point that when a person says they’re in mental distress, we will just…listen.

“But we’re not there yet. 

“We’re not there yet because mental health in sports, like in many occupations and environments, remains a complicated, under-discussed subject, still wrapped in stigma and dated notions about toughness and “gutting it out.” We’re getting better, no doubt about it—more workplaces are offering mental-health resources for employees, and in sports, Osaka has been preceded by star athletes like Michael Phelps, Abby Wambach, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, who have openly discussed mental-health battles of their own. 

“It’s a work in progress, however. The awkward debate over Osaka’s departure signals that athletes and sports are still figuring this out. We’re not yet ready to nurture mental health in the way we do a pulled hamstring or badly sprained ankle.”

I read another article from the Wall Street Journal about how employers are trying to accommodate younger employees who are much more open about their mental health:

“Naomi Osaka did something this week that would be unthinkable in many workplaces. Citing her struggles with depression and social anxiety, she said she wouldn’t be able to carry out what some see as a key part of a professional tennis player’s job: talking to the press.

What Happens When Mental-Health Issues Get in the Way of Work
Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open is a public example of a private issue facing many companies By Te-Ping Chen
June 3, 2021 7:31 am ET

“The 23-year-old Ms. Osaka—the world’s highest-paid female athlete—isn’t a typical professional, nor is the French Open a traditional workplace. But Ms. Osaka’s openness about her mental-health struggles is a public example of private issues companies are increasingly facing as a young generation more candid about such challenges joins the workforce, employers say.

“Companies have been adjusting to meet employees’ needs with more mental-health support and services in recent years. Yet Ms. Osaka’s announcement and subsequent tournament withdrawal highlights an especially thorny question: How can an individual’s mental-health needs be accommodated when those needs affect the ability to do parts of the job?”

Waffles and my daughter at the beach
Waffles with my daughter at the beach last summer.

What are your thoughts about Amy Osaka? Should the tennis world have given her accommodations for her mental health? Or, did she make the correct decision to step back and take care of herself? Do you think employers should give accommodations to employees who are suffering from mental illness just as they would physical ailments?

I wrote a post a few years ago about the GOAT Michael Phelps and his struggles with depression after hearing him speak in the Palm Springs area. You can read that article here.


Study: 56% of young liberal women…

I ran across a study from Pew Research that showed that more than half of young liberal women are suffering from depression and anxiety. I wondered why? There’s been an epidemic in mental health issues for everyone due to the global pandemic. Women in general are hardest hit, but this one group is suffering more. In fact, I also learned that women suffer from depression and anxiety 40% more than men. That’s an issue for another story, but worth exploring more.

Katherine Finchy Park Palm Springs
Where I spent the year on my morning walks while sheltering in place.

I read about this phenomenon in Evie Magazine in an article by Elizabeth Condra:

Here’s What the Study Found

“The study in question — which, by the way, isn’t from a news source or media outlet but Pew Research for heaven’s sake — is, when all’s said and done, pretty damning. 

The study, which examined white liberals, moderates, and conservatives, both male and female, found that conservatives were far less likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues than those who identified as either liberal or even “very liberal.” What’s more, white women suffered the worst of all. White women, ages 18-29, who identified as liberal were given a mental health diagnosis from medical professionals at a rate of 56.3%, as compared to 28.4% in moderates and 27.3% in conservatives.

Interestingly enough, the study, which is titled Pew American Trends Panel: Wave 64, was dated March 2020 — over a year ago. Yet it took a Ph.D. candidate in political science posting about the study on Twitter for it to garner even a smidge of attention.

What I learned by reading the study and several articles about it is that young liberal women often focus on horrific things out of their control. The words used are “no agency.” They worry about climate change, poverty, rape culture, racial injustice, all the awful things in our world that they can’t fix. All worthy things to be concerned about, but it can be overwhelming, especially during a global pandemic.

To top that off, the algorithms of social media and news articles continue to feed more and more negative stories — if that’s what they’re reading.

The conservative young women do care about these issues, too, but tend to focus more on what they can control in their own lives. They also may not have such an overwhelmingly negative feed with their big tech algorithm. And they may have faith and practice their religion.

From the article: Zach Goldberg, the doctoral candidate in question, consolidated the study’s info in a set of visuals and posted them to a thread on Twitter. But it’s important to note that he clarified the following: “I didn’t write this thread to mock white liberals or their apparently disproportionate rates of mental illness (and you shouldn’t either). Rather, this is a question that’s underexplored and which may shed light on attitudinal differences towards various social policies.” 

This reminds me of advice I received at a writer’s conference from the great Ray Bradbury. He said “garbage in, garbage out.” He advised us to turn off the news altogether because they are selling soap and it’s overwhelmingly negative. He said to read a poem, essay and the Bible every day instead. I am a big believer in trying to stay positive and look at the bright side of things. I tease my husband that it’s because of my blood type “Be Positive” as opposed to his “Oh Negative.”

What are your thoughts about political beliefs and mental health? Do you believe there is a connection or not? Do you think social media plays a big role with the epidemic of depression and anxiety and why or why not?

It’s a special Wednesday

pug face
This is Waffles snuggling my daughter.

Today is Wednesday. I’ve been waiting patiently for today to arrive for several weeks. My daughter is coming to visit. She is driving from the Bay Area and should be here within the hour. This is the first time anyone from our family will see our new home. We moved in December.

When we announced to our kids that we were selling our home, they were furious. They were so angry with us that we’d consider selling the only home they ever knew. All the memories of their lifetimes were wrapped up in our 1930’s old Spanish home. Birthday parties, sleepovers, hanging out with friends between swim practices. Christmas, Easter egg hunts, spaghetti feeds for the team. Playdates at the neighborhood park. They were born in the hospital a few blocks away.

old spanish style house
Our home of 28 years.

So today, I get to see my daughter. It took several months for our kids to get over their sadness. They were never coming to Arizona to see us, they told us. But now we get the first visit.

It’s been a tough year for a lot of us. The shut down for two weeks to flatten the curve turned into a long year with people suffering from lost jobs, lost wages, isolation, depression and anxiety. My daughter lost her job due to COVID around 10 or 11 months ago. We told her she’d be fine with the enhanced unemployment. But the state of California couldn’t get that right. She was one of approximately 1.13 million people who are in unemployment limbo.

She got a few checks and then they stopped. They owe her thousands of dollars from summer through today. Nobody answers the phone. She calls and calls. When she was lucky to get through after weeks of calling, the person on the other end of the line said they couldn’t see anything wrong with her file. Finally, after writing to her Assemblywoman and Congressmen, she got through a second time. She was told she was going to receive all her back unemployment. She was thrilled. A week later she was told she’s back on hold and they were investigating her account for fraud. She was crushed. And she continues on in limbo.

Here’s an excerpt of an article that explains the ongoing problems with California unemployment:

With an added emphasis on fraud, the EDD spent the remainder of December locating unemployment benefit cases that were ‘potentially fraudulent’, eventually find around 3.5 million cases that fit that description by late December. Two million of the cases were immediately disqualified, such as those sent to inmates and some registered to deceased people, leaving 1.4 million to be suspended in January while the EDD takes a closer look at them.

The suspension of the accounts led over a million unemployed Californians to learn of the situation in the last week. Many found out from communication with the EDD, being told that “Your claim is suspended because it may be tied to fraudulent activity.” Others received notices in the mail reading “You have been receiving unemployment benefits, but we have temporarily suspended your claim because it may be tied to fraudulent activity. You will receive further instruction from EDD on how to verify your identity beginning Jan. 6, 2021.”

While initially silent, the furor of unemployment beneficiaries, who rely on the money to tide them over during the pandemic while they find another job or wait until their business reopens, led the EDD to make a statement during the weekend, days before the full number of beneficiaries in limbo was known.

“As part of ongoing efforts to fight fraud, EDD has suspended payment on claims considered high risk and is informing those affected that their identity will need to be verified starting this week before payments can resume,” tweeted the EDD. “More details on the EDD website in the days ahead.”

What a nightmare! It’s hard enough to lose your job. But then California can’t do what it’s promised to do to help. It’s been hard for her to stay positive. She’s been locked down in a tiny apartment for months on end and is suffering from depression. The Bay Area has some of the strictest restrictions of the state. Good news is on the way with vaccines. We’ve all had shots. Now that businesses are beginning to open she has found a job and starts next week. She decided to make the trip to see us before her life gets back to normal. I’m so thankful I get to see her!

selfie in front of the Public Market sign downtown Seattle
This was two years ago in Seattle on a mother-daughter trip.

Working on an attitude of gratitude

brother and sister with red hair

I’m grateful for these two.

I keep on promising to write in my gratitude journal. But somehow this crazy 2020 leaves me less than grateful. That’s probably why I need to commit to it more than ever. There’s an exercise known as “Three Blessings” that I should complete every evening for months on end. This is the plan: every evening write three things I’m thankful for that happened during the day. They may be little things, like something beautiful I saw on a walk, or bigger like a new writing job referral. Then after each, I explain why the moment happened. It’s an exercise I learned about from a book called “Flourish” by Martin E.P. Seligman. He says in his book that this exercise has been proven to be just as effective as taking anti-depressants in fighting depression! I find it as a nice way to get grounded after a busy day and reflect on everything that is going well.

I try to have an attitude of gratitude. I didn’t realize how many benefits being grateful brings to your life until I read “Gratitude yields health and social benefits” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Here’s what they had to say:

Positive emotions such as gratitude open our minds.

With Thanksgiving having passed, we may want a jump start on our New Year’s resolutions. Research shows such a long list of health and social benefits that families might want to focus on cultivating an attitude of gratitude all year long.

Researchers at Northeastern University found that grateful people are more likely to be patient and make wiser decisions.

Gratitude also makes us more likely to take better care of ourselves. In one psychology journal, a study showed that a grateful attitude correlated to a greater willingness to eat healthier foods, exercise more and go to the doctor. Some research even shows that being appreciative boosts willpower.

Counting our blessings before bedtime can also translate to better sleep. One researcher said it may help soothe the nervous system. Not only can gratitude improve our quality of sleep, it can also help us fall asleep faster and sleep longer.

The health benefits of gratitude can’t be overstated. It’s been shown to decrease physical pain, reduce symptoms associated with depression, decrease blood pressure and boost energy levels. In fact, simply cultivating a lifestyle of gratitude can add an average of seven years to your lifespan.

Being grateful also makes us more resilient, less envious, more optimistic, kinder and more social. It’s no wonder that the more grateful a person is, the more likely the person is to have strong social connections, healthier marriages, larger friendship circles and improved networking skills.

Not only does gratitude have the power to transform our health, our social lives and our careers, it can transform our personalities. Research shows that gratitude contributes to a wide range of positive character traits. It makes us humble and it makes us more generous. Together, these traits combat entitlement and self-centeredness. Grateful people are more willing and able to focus on others and can therefore contribute more broadly to their communities.

We the parents have both the opportunity and the obligation to raise children who will have a positive and transformative effect on the future. As we focus on grooming an attitude of gratitude in our kids, we are not only improving their own quality of life but we are helping to change the world one child at a time.

I do believe it’s our duty as parents to instill gratitude as a trait our kids should embrace. One way is to start a gratitude journal. Another tip is to ask your children at dinner or bedtime to name three things they’re grateful for. In the book I’m reading called “Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance” by Julia Cameron, has exercises to list 10 things you cherish. Another day there I was asked to write 10 things I’m thankful for. It’s not a bad thing to do. By the way, I gave my husband a journal of gratitude and he’s enjoying writing a few things each day.

As parents, I think we need to let our kids and family know how much they mean to us. It’s that time of year!

What are you most grateful for in your life?

Day 220: Time for another shutdown?

I am looking back on this crazy year called 2020. We went through all these days of sheltering in place, yet my little resort town has been busier than ever. The grocery stores are packed. The airbnbs are all booked. I don’t see people sheltering in place as much as they are flocking to Palm Springs.

Does all the visitors to our town help during Coronavirus? It’s something I don’t understand.

Palm trees at sunsnet

A beautiful sunset view from my home.

It mostly younger people coming in small groups. I think they may be working remotely or not working at all and feel the need to get out of their cramped city spaces and spread their wings.

I feel the need to get out as well. I think being stuck at home for days on end is wearing on a lot of people’s nerves. I know my kids and many other young adults are experiencing anxiety, depression and all sorts bad thoughts from this lurch away from “normal.”

When I ask if we’re headed for another shutdown, what I mean to ask is will this one ever end?

Is anyone else feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or confined? If so, what are you doing to feel better?

Blue sky and palm trees are attracting visitors.

Is the cure worse than the disease?

family on hike wearing masks

Wearing masks during a family getaway to the mountains.

There’s an epidemic hitting our country and it’s felt especially among young adults ages 18 to 29. Depression and anxiety. In California, the rates of clinical depression have hit 44% since the Coronavirus shutdowns began. I have a friend who is a psychologist who works with teens and she’s seeing patient after patient contemplating suicide.

The World Health Organization no long recommends shutdowns as the best course of action to fight the global pandemic — even as we’re getting a spike in cases. But in addition to mental illness, the WHO is concerned that shut downs are making the poor even poorer.

Here’s an excerpt from USA Today written by John Bacon:

WHO discourages lockdowns as US hospitalizations climb; 11 states set records for new COVID-19 cases

Dr. David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on COVID-19, urged world leaders this week to stop “using lockdowns as your primary control method” for blunting a virus surge.

“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Nabarro told “The Spectator.” Nabarro said lockdowns can only be justified “to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted. But by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

In California, we’ve been sheltering in place since mid-March. During that time people are feeling isolated, alone and there’s an increase in substance abuse and mental illness. Here’s an excerpt from an article written by Phillip Reese in the Los Angeles Times:

Feeling anxious and depressed? In California, you’re right at home

It’s official, California: COVID-19 has left us sick with worry and increasingly depressed. And our youngest adults — those ages 18 to 29 — are feeling it the worst.

Weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau from late April through late July offer a grim view of the toll the pandemic has taken on mental health in the Golden State and across the nation. By late July, more than 44% of California adults reported levels of anxiety and gloom typically associated with diagnoses of generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder — a stunning figure that rose through the summer months alongside the menacing spread of the coronavirus.

The U.S. at large has followed a similar pattern, with about 41% of adult respondents nationwide reporting symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression during the third week of July. By comparison, just 11% of American adults reported those symptoms in a similar survey conducted in early 2019.

The July responses showed a marked geographic variance. Residents of Western and Southern states, where the virus remains most virulent, registered greater mental distress, on average.

There are many reasons why young adults are seeing the largest increase in depression and anxiety during the shutdown. First, they aren’t able to be socially involved. Their worlds have been turned upside down being stuck in the house with their parents and away from their peers. Second, they are more open to talking about mental illness and are more willing to get help compared to the boomers or older generations. I believe that is a good thing and a glimmer of hope while we all soldier through this together.

It’s important to know the signs of depression and get your children help. Click here for a link to the National Institute of Mental Health to learn more about depression in teens and where to get help.

Coit Tower with kids

Last year we were climbing Coit Tower together on a trip to visit our kids.

Why do you think there is such a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety among teens and young adults?