Kenya: Mental Health Issues Big Challenge for Athletes

14 October 2021
opinion

No one can survive in life through lone ranger tactics rather we all need a shoulder to lean on in tough times.

Lately, we have read in the media about various international athletes coming out to confess about their mental health challenges. American tennis superstar Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open due to what she termed as mental fragility in the face of incessant questions by the media over her performance.

Former Wales winger Craig Bellamy last month quit his role as the assistant coach at Belgian side Anderlecht due to his mental health struggles. These athletes show that sports persons are not super humans as we often think and may also feel vulnerable at certain moments in their careers.

Back at home, Athletics Kenya is not blind to the fact that certain athletes are experiencing mental health struggles. This has become more pronounced in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of many global athletics events, which were the source of daily bread for many athletes.

Even before the pandemic, mental health has been an issue of concern as far as athletes are concerned. Mental health and sports are intertwined and affect one another. An athlete cannot perform well when he or she is not in the right state of mind; events on the track and pitch can also affect their mental health and how they relate to other people in their lives.

Other athletes sink into depression--and subsequently, alcoholism and illegal drug use - after retirement due to idleness after long years characterized by busy calendars. Others struggle to fathom that they have nothing to show financially after many years on the track and field.

Furthermore, just like all other people, life's issues, such as marital woes, challenges of motherhood and bereavement, also affect athletes.

The first step to overcoming our mental obstacles is to speak it out and confide in someone. A problem shared is a problem half solved.

I applaud athletes who have been brave enough to speak out on their troubles and how they have managed to surmount them. It was also heartwarming to see past and present female athletes at a NOC-K seminar in Eldoret speak candidly about the challenges affecting them, including maternity leave and menstruation. I hope more of us will learn that no one is an island and hold each other's hands as we navigate this sports industry.

The writer is chairman of Athletics Kenya's Nairobi branch.

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