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Healthy Living

Mental Health in Teen Athletes

a person playing football a person playing football

By: Drew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP

Mental illness is an extremely common and important issue among teenagers. Although sports and physical activity have tremendous mental health benefits, young athletes are not exempt from the ongoing mental health crisis.

In fact, some aspects of being a competitive athlete like perfectionism, external pressures to perform or severe injuries may increase the risk of mental illness. Improving mental health and well-being, on the other hand, can not only help make young athletes feel better—it can even have important benefits for performance and reducing illness and injury risk.

What's the best way to support your child's mental health?

The single most important things that parents can do is create a safe environment that promotes ongoing conversations about mental health for your child.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Assure your child that they can tell you anything, without judgement.

  • Recognize and communicate to your child that MENTAL HEALTH IS HEALTH. The goal is to normalize conversations about it.

  • Bring up the topic of mental health yourself, and make yourself available when your child wants to talk. (Consider sharing this "Teen to Teen" video reel, at right, to help spark discussion.)

Some symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • significant worries about things before they happen

  • constant worries or concerns about family, school, friends or activities

  • fears of embarrassment or making mistakes

  • low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence

Some symptoms of depression can include:

  • feeling or appearing depressed, sad, tearful or irritable

  • loss of interest in friends, academics or activities

  • changes in appetite and/or weight

  • sleeping more or less than usual; having more trouble concentrating

  • having thoughts of self-harm or even suicide

If you think that your child is struggling with their mental health, talk with them and help them to get help.

Encourage athletes to talk about with you or with other family members, friends and healthcare providers. You can also call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (9-8-8).

If you feel that your child is experiencing a mental health emergency (expressing an intent to harm themselves or others), call 911 or go to the emergency department.

Resources for adolescent athletes & all teens

Here are some helpful resources for families:


If you have any questions or concerns about your child's mental health, don't hesitate to talk with your pediatrician.

More information

About Dr. Watson

Drew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness. He practices pediatric sports medicine within the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin–Madison and is a team physician for the university's athletic department.

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports (Copyright © 2022)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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