Le sport, le haut niveau et les risques sur la santé mentale

Sport, high level and the risks on mental health

The performance requirement and the psychological pressure of the high level

The cult of performance leads to an almost constant psychological effort among top athletes. They must prepare themselves mentally to be able to develop their mental and cognitive skills in order to optimize their performance. However, if we look more closely, mental preparation is practiced before competition periods but after these events, we observe very little psychological follow-up. In addition, this mental preparation consists in optimizing one's physical abilities, therefore remaining in the logic of the cult of performance which itself is a source of pressure for athletes.

We therefore wonder about the risks of performance requirements and the psychological pressure exerted on high-level athletes.

The recent history of sport is full of examples

Despite this mental preparation, athletes are more and more subject to psychological difficulties and in particular to depressive disorders. In 2021, Simone Biles multiple Olympic champion and gymnast cracks at the Tokyo Games. She then confides that she needs to protect her mental health to New York Magazine and concedes that she “should have given up long before Tokyo. ". The same year, Naomi Osaka shared her problems with anxiety and depression in the middle of the Roland Garros tournament. Most recently, it was the world number 1, Ashleigh Barty, who announced that she was ending her career at just 25 years old. These professional sportswomen were not the first to encounter mental health problems. In the early 2000s, Marie-José Pérec went through phases of depression. Many and many athletes have publicly acknowledged their ills: Jan Ullrich, Marion Bartoli, Christophe Dominici, if only a few had to be mentioned to illustrate that all sporting disciplines are concerned.

The psychological cost of athletic performance

Developing professionally in close dependence on results and physical performance is not without psychological cost. Indeed, according to the survey conducted in 2020 by the Ethics and Sport Committee evaluating the mental health of 1,200 athletes, more than 89% of them have already felt a lack of energy, a feeling of sadness (88% ), anxiety (86%) and lack of confidence (86%). Half of the athletes questioned feel a lack of desire to practice their passion and reluctantly go to their training sessions. Thus, they have the feeling of stagnating which leads them into a cycle of malaise where they can no longer find the motivation and performance they could achieve, and therefore lose self-confidence.

The documentary “The Weight of Gold” produced by swimming legend Michael Phelps highlights these difficulties that are far too little addressed. The latter appears with around twenty Olympic athletes by his side, the skier Bode Miller, the skater Gracie Gold or the sprinter Lolo Jones, all with poignant stories. Through this documentary, they want to push the American Olympic and Paralympic Committee to put the necessary means into helping mental health. More generally, they aim to highlight the lack of consideration of the mental health of athletes.

Prevent, educate, anticipate, recover

Proof of the lack of consideration on the subject, there are too few means available to athletes. Myriam Kloster, French volleyball player, said in an interview for the Huffingtonpost that: “It's sometimes complicated to have a physio, so a shrink, let's not talk about it. ".

This lack of means made available for psychological follow-up stems directly from the taboos present around issues related to mental health.

Elise Anckaert, sports psychologist at the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP) remarks through the monitoring of many athletes that the requirement of performance makes the potential weaknesses of athletes even more taboo. The latter condition themselves so as not to compare themselves to ordinary mortals. It is even more difficult for them to accept this malaise and then to make themselves heard.

A simple solution not to evade the subject

Mental health is first and foremost a matter of health. Why do you want to treat the subject in a differentiated way?

In the West, we cultivate a form of valuing suffering in sport. We often wait to pass a certain pain threshold to consider the problem, whether physical or psychological...

For a long time, however, we have known that prevention is better than cure.

On the physical level, recovery is a subject that is increasingly well documented scientifically and which now integrates many training plans, not only for maintenance, but increasingly to improve performance.

Psychological recovery requires good quality sleep.

If everyone has been able to experience the impact of sleep on a good physical recovery, it is the same on the psychological level.

Indeed, sleep plays a crucial role on the mind because it allows the evacuation of toxins from the brain tissue in order to maximize coordination and concentration during the day, essential qualities of the athlete. Sleep also affects the hormones of well-being: serotonin and endorphins in particular. These are secreted by the amygdala during the night. But if the amount of sleep is not sufficient, adrenaline and cortisol will take up more space and will develop anxiety disorders.

The quality of sleep is essential to allow your mind to release the pressure. Sleeping is an essential recovery space for his routine. Beyond the benefits on the physical level, it gives the brain essential time to rest.

Growing awareness

Different strategies have been developed by specialized doctors but also psychiatrists and psychologists to improve mental health for high-level sport, particularly in Canada. This strategy evokes as a priority the commitment of the stakeholders and the communication, the promotion of mental health, the prevention of these difficulties but also the diagnosis and the psychological follow-up of the sportsmen. In addition, since the problems are recurrent at the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee has designed a toolkit on the mental health of high-level athletes. This highlights various resources to prevent risks and allow better care for athletes.

Whether on a physical or psychological level, recovery is essential to move forward, to progress, to excel...

At Elemat, our philosophy is Zero Time. The time of the switch between effort and comfort. The time that allows you to appreciate the pleasure of effort and the pleasure of recovery. Whether physically or mentally, pleasure drives a routine. Our routine is Time Zero.

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