Hidden Injuries - What to watch for

By: Erin Dean MS, AT, ATC
Athletic Trainer- Vandercook Lake High School
Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists, P.C.

In the world of sports, avoiding injuries is borderline inevitable, physical injuries are easy to notice as they are routinely studied and talked about. In addition to physical injuries, many athletes deal with injuries that extend past the playing field and are hidden to the naked eye. Mental illness is easily becoming one of the greatest silent epidemics we have seen. At the high school level, students have numerous stressors impacting their lives. Athletics can enhance or reduce symptoms associated with mental illness. Both physical and mental health are equally important, yet with young athletes often viewing colligate and professional athletes as superhuman, this idolization can be potentially dangerous with the stress student athletes place on themselves at younger ages. It is critical for parents, guardians, coaches, and medical professionals to recognize warning signs and symptoms that may trigger or intensify mental illnesses.

What to Watch Out For:
Triggering events:
· Sleep disturbances
· Lack of energy
· Loss of appetite
· Decreased interest in practice/training
· Lack of concentration
· Mood disturbances
· Disordered eating
· Bullying or hazing
· Lack of playing time
· Poor performance
· Pressure to win
· Physical injury
· Coach/teammate conflict

How to help:

1. To open conversation, ask questions such as: “How are you feeling?”, “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Is everything okay?”, or “Is anything bothering you at home, school, or in practice?”
2. Listen to what they have to say.
3. Ask them if they have thought about hurting themselves or ending their life.
4. Encourage them to seek help.

Things to avoid:
1. Trying to fix the problem.
2. Offering clichés.
3. Minimizing feelings.

Commonly only 1 in 5 individuals struggling with mental illness will ask for help. While athletes can suffer from mental illness for a lifetime, it can all be short-lived. The main thing to keep in mind, is that mental illness is treatable and sometimes preventable. Get a head start on recognizing symptoms associated with various mental illnesses and don’t ever be afraid to ask a student athlete if everything is okay. You never know what is going on, until you ask. 

Erin is the Licensed Athletic Trainer at Vandercook Lake High School and can be reached at erinatc@orsmi.com