Sport Injuries and Mental Health Risks

Injured athlete
Injured athlete | Image by Denis Kuvaev

The world of sports is synonymous with injuries. Preparing to reenter the game takes an understandable recovery period for the injured part of the body. One missing element in the recovery is the mental aspect.

“It’s been an under-discussed topic for years,” Alexandra Podowski, LPC, an intensive outpatient program therapist and former athlete, told The Dallas Express.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said an estimated 2 million athletes in high school report sports injuries. However, the injuries’ effects on mental health are likely to go undetected.

“I think it’s pretty impossible to walk away from an injury without some level of mental toll,” said Podowski, who provides therapy at Texas Health Behavioral Health Center in Uptown, Dallas.

“You’re going to get stuck in your head,” she said. “You’re going to be worried about what comes next, how long the trajectory of recovery is going to be, how smooth it’s going to be, if there will be any complications.”

Parents, coaches, and anyone else interacting with athletes should look for identifying signs that could point to a problem to address this. Many of these signs are like depression, such as isolation, withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed, sleep and appetite disruptions, and mood changes.

Podowski said it is vital for parents to talk to their athletes to figure out how they are feeling and make them aware of the potential emotional toll the injury could have on them.

“Some kids can just benefit from an open dialogue, being given permission to slow down and to talk about the recovery process and the fact that feelings are going to accompany that.”

Athletes could develop fears of performing at a lower level once an injury heals, leading to anxious or depressive tendencies. If the sports team has a psychologist, the athlete should have their mental health assessed to determine the best treatment method.

“If it’s starting to spiral into something that looks more like anxiety attacks, isolation, or anger outbursts, then you’re going to want to take it a step further and get some additional help,” Podowski said.

Texas Health gives assessments free of charge to help address mental health issues in athletes.

Podowski said the current focus is more on the physical when the mind is just as important.

The hope is to unite everyone around the athletes, such as parents, friends, coaches, teachers, and mentors, to identify changes in their behavior or demeanor and direct them to get help if needed. Podowski says this approach would ideally be part of athletes’ overall health care.

For a free behavioral health assessment from Texas Health, you can visit their website or call 682-626-8719.

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