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:
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
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.
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.