Julia Gillard

The Chair of Beyond Blue, The Hon. Julia Gillard AC

Professional athletes have to strive for excellence in the full public glare. They submit themselves to tough health and fitness regimes, strict training schedules and make great personal sacrifices to be at peak physical condition.

It’s commonplace for sportspeople at the highest levels to endure microscopic analysis of their performance, injuries and personal attitude every time they compete.
Girls playing footySuch demands and public criticism can test even the most resilient.

While the research says athletes are no more or less susceptible to common mental health issues than the general population, they do experience unique circumstances.

Professional athletes usually start their training from a young age, where they are often coached to be ‘tough’, to be ‘strong’ and to be ‘resilient’.

Even if athletes do not experience pressure to keep a brave face, they might expect it of themselves. Faced with a mental health challenge, they may worry about what will happen if they talk about it and ask themselves questions like: “What if it damages my reputation? My career? My sponsorships? What if I can’t play anymore?”

While to many of us, professional athletes seem superhuman, when it comes to mental health, they actually have the same anxieties and doubts as the rest of us.

But fortunately, a number of our footy, and other sporting stars, have been prepared to open up and talk about mental health.

They have spoken up about their own issues and, in doing so, demonstrated that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a show of strength.

By their example, they have helped others who might have been too afraid to talk about their mental health, find the confidence to do so.

So, while we’re enjoying following our favourite sporting teams, let’s remember that talking about mental health is a game changer.

Mental health professionals are available at the beyondblue Support Service via phone 24/7 on 1300 22 4636 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3PM – 12AM AEST) or email responses within 24 hours.

Related reading: A word from Julia

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