According to more than 70 top Finnish athletes, they suffered from mental health problems during their careers, according to an extensive study by Yle Sport.
A total of 111 active and retired top athletes responded to a questionnaire sent to 344 individuals and team athletes who represented Finland at the Olympic and international events in 2010-2020.
Nearly all respondents who reported mental health problems reported experiencing anxiety, exhaustion, depression, and sleep disorders at the same time.
Every other defendant had considered ending his career because of this.
"I was not mentally present in the action. I was afraid I would take my life. When I was alone, I used indifference and self-destruction," answered one of the athletes who had finished his career.
Everyday life weakened
The Duodecim Medical Society defines a mental disorder as a condition in which a person’s mood, emotions, thoughts, or behavior impair his or her ability to function, affect human relationships, or cause suffering.
About 68 percent of respondents said they experienced mental health problems.
"There were already some problems in high school, but I was diagnosed when I was about 22 years old. Mental health problems severely disrupted my daily life," said the women’s team athlete, who will represent Finland at the Olympics.
Thirteen percent of those surveyed said they are unable to assess suffering from mental disorders. However, many of them said they experienced various symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression and exhaustion.
One-fifth of respondents had not experienced any mental disorders at all.
Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts
Four out of five female athletes who responded to the survey had experienced mental health problems – half of the male respondents had experienced the same.
"The pressure on appearance and body image adds to the problem when there is constant talk that he has to be ‘looking like an athlete’," said a representative of the Women’s Olympics.
About one in three respondents said they had had problems eating. Nearly one in five had suicidal thoughts. Some athletes also reported suffering from panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and various addictions.
"I suffer from depression at the top of suicidal thoughts and anxiety, I sought help because I did not even realize that I’m sick," said a male representative of the Olympics single event.
Respondents also reported suffering from chronic pain, insomnia, travel fatigue, and panic disorder suffered from burning.
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The mental disorders experienced by the top athletes who responded to the survey lasted from days to several years. Some struggled with their mental health throughout their careers.
"I was painless and completely healthy for only two seasons of my approximately 13-year career. Daily pain and dysfunction was a huge mental struggle," said the former Olympic representative.
Respondents revealed that their problems were alleviated as soon as they ended their careers.
One-fifth of mental disorders were diagnosed. Only a few, 15 percent of respondents, used prescription drugs.
Fear of failure and loss of livelihood
The study found that nearly half of those with mental health problems cited fear of failure as the cause of their problems. Other major causes were injuries, illnesses, or difficulties in balancing personal life and career.
"When I didn’t do well in sports, I couldn’t think of anything else. This always lasted from weeks to a few months. The level of anxiety increases during the competition season, especially if the goals are not achieved. When I left, I realized how much anxiety dominated my life as an athlete," retired male Olympic athlete.
A livelihood survey conducted by Yle Sports four years ago revealed that most of Finland’s top athletes in individual sports live below the poverty line.
According to a 2018 equality survey conducted by Yle Sport, women earn less than men, especially in team sports.
In this study, about 40 percent of respondents said financial problems were the cause of their mental health problems.
"Quitting was a difficult decision because life after a sports career was by no means safe. I was unemployed and did not receive unemployment benefits because professional sports are not considered work, ”the retired male athlete replied.
Nine percent of respondents felt that ending a sports career had caused mental health problems.
"After the end of my sports career, no one offered help with a career change," one of the respondents said.
More than a third said their mental health problems were due to self-esteem problems, high expectations, over-training and loss or problems in relationships.
Source: The Nordic Page