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Teen Athletes: Our Superstars Are Struggling And We Need To Pay Attention

The opioid epidemic which has claimed over 100,00 lives since 2015 alone brought our attention to the incredible risk our sons take when they are prescribed an opioid painkiller. Boys will be boys , we have heard for generations when it comes to the tough, reckless, physical voracity of boys when they play or when they play sports- and boys will get hurt. Tragically, as the opioid epidemic has revealed, when boys get hurt playing high school sports, they are oftentimes prescribed an opioid painkiller, which can lead to a debilitating, life-threatening addiction.  Organized sports can be a highlight of a young boys life from his early years into his adolescence and his teenagehood. Once he reaches high school, his participation in sports can take another turn, as championships carry a different weight. Performance is demanded. Scholarships to colleges could be on the line. For some young boys, high school athleticism could lead to a lifelong career. Injury from high school sports does more than hurt the body- it can hurt his spirit, his motivation, and his mental health. Addiction to painkillers, for example, can lead to an isolated, painful way of living life for a young man. Even without the presence of an addiction, or the involvement of any kind of substance abuse at all, young boys who are athletes in high school can suffer. As The Atlantic recently highlighted in their feature Why Are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling With Depression? it doesn't take an injury to cause mental health distress in a teenage athlete's life.  Ironically, it is often get more exercise that is immediately recommended when bringing up the topic of depression, particularly in teens. Movement promotes the production of happy chemicals in the brain and body, like endorphins. Team sports, healthy competition, and the camaraderie of high school athletes as a whole are all positive mental health boosters. Yet, more teen athletes are struggling with depression and as parents, we need to pay careful attention. 

The Statistics

Nearly half of American youths struggle with a mental illness before turning 18, while 12 percent have experienced a bout of depression, the article cites, explaining that Sports can be a key contributor to depression and anxiety for high school athletes. If we consider the dynamics of our son's high school, for example, these numbers are startling. Nearly half of the students in our son's school who are under the age of 18 will have already experienced mental illness before reaching 18. Though twelve-percent is somewhat small, it is a significant amount of young adults who are living with very heavy, intense, grown-up emotional issues, beyond their scope of emotional coping. The article references a 2015 study by the National Athletic Trainers' Association, which found that Many student-athletes report higher levels of negative emotional states than non-student-athlete adolescents. What should be a healthy, fun outlet for teenagers becomes an extra source of added stress. 

Contributing Factors To Depression In Teen Athletes

Injury or potential injury is only one contributing factor to depression in teen athletes.   
  • Physical demand: Many high school athletes are training at a college level, years beyond what their growing bodies can actually handle. As a result, they are physically as well as mentally over-exhausted. 
  • Time demand: Over-training doesn't just take place in the quality of training, but the quantity of training as well. High school athletes often have training before, during, and after school, in addition to games, travel, tournaments, and more. Hours of hard physical and mental work can get in the way of homework and assignments, creating stress. As well, their social lives can be affected, creating feelings of loneliness and resentment toward their sport. Many teens play multiple sports throughout the year, eating up all of their time. 
  • Performance demand: The pressure to perform in playing a sport takes the fun of playing out of the sport. When performance isn't up to the par of coaches or parents, students can struggle with self-esteem and confidence. When an injury takes place, it feels more like a statistical possibility and more like a failure, putting immense emotional pressure on young adults. 

When Fun Isn't Fun Anymore

Sports should always be fun. After all, athletes play for the love of the game. However, when the love of the game is gone, the love for playing is gone as well. A loss of interest in passions and hobbies is common as well as a key sign of depression developing in teens. Especially for teens who have played the same sport since a young age, the sudden loss of interest in something which has taken up large amounts of their time, energy, and focus, can be incredibly unsettling. Many teens undergo an identity crisis when they lose interest in their sports. Without a rigorous training schedule to keep them busy, they can fill their time in unhealthy ways to cope- turning to drugs, alcohol, partying, or other problematic behaviors. 

If you or an adolescent you know needs to get help for drug or alcohol abuse, Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center can give you the guidance that you deserve. Establishing a strong network of family and community can reinforce practices for living substance free.

Call us today to start living in your recovery: 662-598-4214