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5 inspirational athletes who spoke out about mental health

Mental Health Most people look up to athletes like children to superheroes: they’re strong, intelligent, and above all, brave. But even the smartest and strongest athletes falter and many of them deal with their own mental health issues.

But not until the last few years have athletes begun openly speaking about mental health. It was an area thought as taboo as athletes wagering money with a Las Vegas sportsbook.

Thankfully, a few athletes have taken it upon themselves to speak up. Whether they were doing it for themselves or for their peers or for everyone going through mental health issues, these athletes have inspired generations to come.

These athletes became a voice for mental health

Today, more and more athletes are openly speaking about their mental health. But it is still a sensitive subject and it took a few prominent athletes having to step up to encourage their peers.

What can be a bit surprising is how most of the athletes who have spoken up were of high status in the sports world. These athletes are among the best at what they do, which further elucidates that mental illness is a topic that concerns every person of every status.

Aly Raisman

A two-time Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast, Raisman became a focal point in the Larry Nassar scandal that rocked the country. Raisman came forward as one of the many sexually abused victims of Nassar.

Since then, Raisman has admitted to dealing with mental health issues.

“I feel like the abuse kind of took away that trust in myself which I’m really struggling to get back,” Raisman said in an interview with Today co-anchor Hoda Kotb. “I’m working on it, and I’ve learned that the best thing to do is just to really ask for help and to communicate with people because then people can help me.”

Mental Health Raisman and the other survivors of the US Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. She has then become an advocate for mental wellness and is working with mental health organizations like Sanvello Health, Inc.

Kevin Love

Love became one of the first NBA stars to speak up openly about mental health. The five-time All-Star had a panic attack during an NBA game in 2018 and has been seeing a therapist since.

“The crazier part about this is — and mental health is — it just doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care who you are, it doesn’t care where you’re from — your socioeconomic status, gender profile, race. No matter what it is, it can impact you,” Love recently said in an interview for the Aspen Institute.

Love has gone on to reveal in several podcasts and in his own writing at the Players’ Tribune that he has experienced mental health issues growing up. He just didn’t fully comprehend it.

Inspired by Love, other NBA players like DeMar DeRozan, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Steph Curry have all spoken up about mental illness.

Michael Phelps

Considered by many to be the greatest Olympian to ever live, Phelps spoke openly about having to overcome mentally ill periods in his life. At one point, he even contemplated suicide in 2014.

But thanks to his wife, Nicole Johnson, a healthy emotional support system, and therapy, Phelps has learned to talk about his mental health issues.

“Prior to going to therapy, I never wanted to do it,” Phelps said in an interview with POPSUGAR. “I’m still here. I’m still on this planet, so that’s a major change in how [therapy] has impacted my life.

Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history with a total of 28 medals including 23 gold medals. He is now a spokesperson for the therapy app, Talkspace.

Mental Health Brandon Marshall

On paper, Marshall had built a Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career. He made six Pro Bowls, two All-Pro teams, and was part of the 100 greatest Bears of All-Time.

But Marshall’s NFL accolades were seemingly overshadowed by his erratic behavior. The star wide receiver was not only outspoken, he often clashed with coaches and teammates and got into legal troubles.

It wasn’t until 2011 when Marshall announced through a press conference that he had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

This mental illness is marked by “pervasive instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotions,” according to Dr. Harold Bursztajn, co-director of the Harvard Medical School Program in Psychiatry and the Law.

Marshall and his wife then formed Project 375, an advocacy group dedicated to spreading awareness about and reducing the social stigma associated with BPD and other mental illnesses.

Abby Wambach

Wambach was the face of women’s soccer for a good part of her career. But like many legendary athletes like her, she struggled to accept that her career wouldn’t last forever.

“I was having an existential crisis. I didn’t know what I would be without soccer as my main identity,” Wambach mentioned in her 2016 memoir.

Wambach admitted she fell into drug and alcohol abuse as a means of dealing with her career end and issues in her marriage. It took a widely publicized DUI to convince her she needed help. And that she needed to speak up.

“People are so uncomfortable talking about mental health because they can’t fix it. As soon as I started talking about it, I immediately felt like this is what I’ve been needing to do.” Wambach is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a World Cup champion, and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and is now one of the sport’s most prominent advocates for mental health.

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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 20th November 2020.

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