In a recent Buttery virtual event, League Legend Phil Gould, Gold Medal Netballer turned Collingwood WAFL player Sharni Layton and ex-Wallaby Warwick Waugh joined a leading sports psychologist, Grant Brecht to shed light on the mental health and substance use challenges facing many professional sports people.
The panel agreed that sports people are no less immune to drug, alcohol and mental health issues than anyone else. Their risks may be heightened by the intense pressure to perform.
“As pressures continue to rise in sport, the more the toll on mental health. Even though I was named ‘the best defender in the world’ I still kept striving and was not satisfied,” said Sharni a former captain of the Australian Netball Team.
She said she underwent psychological counselling and “learnt about becoming more authentic and true to myself.”
“Saying I will be happy ‘When…’ means you will never be happy. You need to be happy in the now.”
“Humans are not meant to be happy all the time, but they’re not meant to be sad either…the best advice is to be kind to yourself.”
Phil spoke of his seven footballing mates who have taken their own lives due to mental health issues. He said this has driven him to be “sure young people coming into the sport know to be in the moment, to appreciate what they have now.”
Grant Brecht, a psychologist of 25 years’ standing and a specialist in dealing with the issues facing sports people said “we are losing the battle with mental health in the developed world. Depression, anxiety and substance use are on the increase.”
He said drug and alcohol and mental health issues affect people from all works of life and “do not discriminate according to income or social position.”
His recommendation is for people to seek help early if they feel troubled. He said 40% of people will receive a mental health disorder diagnosis in their life-time.
Players may be driven to use drugs to enhance their athletic performance, cope with the stress of high-pressure situations such as finals, manage sports-related pain, recover more quickly from (or simply cover up) injuries
Some use recreational drugs and alcohol to self-treat mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Many face additional challenges at the end of their career as they adjust to life outside the spotlight.
Warwick Waugh, who represented Australia in eight Rugby Tests said it can be difficult for elite sports people to adjust to life after sport.
Rather than defining yourself as a sports player or according to your calling in life, he said a preferable strategy is to focus on “pursuing excellence in life. It is healthier to define yourself by who you are, not by what you do.”