Sports and recreational activities can be healthy outlets for people to participate in physical activity, teamwork, goal setting, and pushing oneself beyond the limits. But they can also be fraught with performance anxiety, personal conflict, depression while coping with injuries, post-concussion symptoms, eating disorders, and more. The Amen Clinics sports psychiatry program offers comprehensive brain-based solutions designed to help everyone involved in athletics overcome obstacles to reach their potential.
WHO CAN BENEFIT?
Sports psychiatry benefits a wide range of people at all levels of athletic participation and all ages—from Little League to AYSO soccer to the Super Bowl to the Olympics—as well as the many people on the sidelines. People we have helped at Amen Clinics include:
Youth athletes: Helping children, adolescent, and teen athletes overcome any mental health conditions, develop healthy thinking habits, and learn strategies for dealing with disappointment and losses can set a strong foundation not only for better performance but also for greater enjoyment of athletics throughout their lives.
College and professional athletes: People competing at the highest levels need every advantage possible. Enhancing brain health and treating any psychiatric issues can strengthen the athlete’s mindset to face challenges and lead to peak performance.
Recreational athletes: Many everyday athletes take their sports seriously and can improve performance, be a better teammate, and learn how to deal with injuries and setbacks.
Retired or retiring athletes: Whether someone is making the transition out of a professional career or has already retired, a sports psychiatrist can help ease the transition and help overcome any lasting consequences from your career.
Coaches and athletic trainers: These key people can learn how to get the best out of their athletes, keep them motivated, and keep players working together as a team. Educating coaches and others to recognize athletes at risk for mental health disorders can lead to earlier and more effective treatment.
Team managers: At the professional level, sports psychiatrists can help teams with risk assessment prior to hiring an athlete.
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PSYCHIATRIC ISSUES AFFECTING ATHLETES
Athletes can experience a wide range of psychological and psychiatric issues, including:
Anxiety: Performance anxiety, social anxiety, and other forms of anxiety are common among athletes of all ages and abilities.
Depression: Based on research, approximately 15.6%-21%—or as many as 1 in 5—college athletes may have major depressive disorder, more than twice the rate of 18-25-year-olds who aren’t athletes. Statistics on depression among professional athletes are hard to come by. Research suggests that due to the stigma associated with mental health issues and the elite athlete’s desire to avoid appearing weak, depression is likely underreported, underdiagnosed, and undertreated in the professional ranks. Depression can also strike when a player’s career comes to an end. A 2018 survey found that half of all retired elite athletes contend with a loss of identity, feelings of regret, and for some of them, depression.
Lack of focus or attention: Athletes who have trouble staying focused on their training or during a game or event may have ADD/ADHD. Emerging research shows that ADD/ADHD may be more common in athletes than in non-athletes. Treating this underlying condition can make a significant difference in an athlete’s ability to perform.
Head injuries and concussions: The dangers of concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in sports has been making headlines in recent years. Each year, there are over 2 million TBIs in the U.S., and the number of concussions is rising especially among children. Head injuries can come from a tackle in football, a fall off a bike, or from repetitive actions like headers in soccer. And you don’t have to black out or be diagnosed with a concussion to have lasting psychiatric symptoms. Healing the underlying damage to the brain is essential for overcoming symptoms.
Coping with injuries: Unfortunately, injuries are common in sports and can cause feelings of depression and a loss of a sense of identity. Learning to cope psychologically with setbacks can keep athletes on track with rehabilitation so they can get back in the game.
Low motivation problems: When an athlete won’t commit to a practice schedule, doesn’t give 100%, or appears lazy, it can be a sign of depression, ADD/ADHD, or other mental health disorders. Uncovering the underlying cause of the issue is key to ramping up energy and effort.
Negative thinking patterns: Getting stuck in a loop of negative thinking during a match or game can actually shut down areas of the brain involved in coordination making it harder to make that free throw or pitch a strike.
Sleep Disorders: Sleep plays a major role in athletics. When athletes aren’t getting enough sleep or have disrupted sleep, it can negatively impact their physical performance, split-second decision-making, motivation, post-game recovery, and risk of injury. On the flip side, improving the duration and quality of sleep can improve all of these areas. In fact, studies have shown that increasing sleep duration improves speed and shooting accuracy in college basketball players and improves accuracy in college tennis players.
Substance abuse: Studies show that some athletes turn to alcohol, marijuana, opiates, stimulants, or other drugs for performance enhancement, pain relief, or self-medication to cope with anxiety/stress or depression. Finding healthier ways to treat anxiety and depression and to live up to expectations is a better long-term solution.
Eating disorders: Both male and female athletes are at higher risk of developing eating disorders, according to a study in BMJ, while other studies show that eating disorders affect as many as 60% of female athletes. The use of diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, and other weight management strategies are common in both female and male athletes, especially those in sports that emphasize appearance or weight requirements, such as gymnastics, figure skating, bodybuilding, and wrestling.
Overtraining syndrome: The push to excel in sports can lead to overtraining, which is associated with depressed moods, fatigue, neurohormonal changes, and other issues. A 2012 review of the research on overtraining syndrome found that approximately 60% of elite runners pushed themselves too hard compared with just 33% of recreational joggers, and 35% of adolescent swimmers had been “overtrained” at least once.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that OCD may be more than twice as common in college athletes as in the general population. An obsession with calories, hyperfocus on physique, rituals, and superstitions are some of the OCD symptoms seen in athletes.
Team conflict: Teams are like families. If there’s one person who’s suffering from a mental health condition, everyone suffers. Understanding each team member’s brain type and how that influences the way they think, feel, and act can be very helpful in managing different personalities on a team.
Anger management: Everybody gets angry from time to time, but when the degree of anger or aggression is greatly out of proportion to the situation, it’s could be an indicator that something’s wrong.
ISSUES WITH PSYCHIATRIC MEDICATIONS
Treating athletes requires expert care and consultation. At Amen Clinics, we provide careful medication management to choose psychotropic medications that have minimal impact on performance. And in some cases when medication contains prohibited substances, we can provide Therapeutic Use Exemptions giving an athlete authorization to take a necessary prescription.
In addition, we believe in using brain-directed nutritional supplements that reduce the need for medications while enhancing brain health, mental fitness, and physical performance. One major flaw in prescribing nutraceuticals, as well as medications, is that they are generally recommended in a cookie-cutter manner based on symptoms, rather than biology. In our experience, treatment is much more effective when we personalize nutraceuticals and/or medications based on the biological information from our brain imaging work and other testing.
BENEFITS OF BRAIN IMAGING
Unlike traditional psychiatry that rarely looks at the organ it treats, at Amen Clinics, we look at the brain. With our advanced brain SPECT imaging, we can detect underlying patterns associated with conditions like depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and TBIs. Our brain imaging work—over 160,000 functional brain scans related to behavior—has shown that not all mental health conditions are simple or single disorders. They all have multiple types. Knowing your type is critical to getting the most effective treatment for your needs.
WHY CHOOSE AMEN CLINICS FOR SPORTS PSYCHIATRY?
At Amen Clinics, we believe in taking a comprehensive brain-body approach to treatment that involves the least toxic, most effective strategies. It all starts with a full evaluation, which includes brain imaging, neuropsychological testing, lab work (as needed), and an assessment of the other areas of your life that might be affecting your performance. Depending your specific needs, next steps may include helpful forms of psychotherapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), neurofeedback, hormone optimization, integrative medicine, natural supplements, nutrition, IV nutrient therapy, and medication evaluation and management (when necessary).
Contact us today to learn more.