Professional athletes and depression

There are many terms used to describe professional athletes.  Some of these include famous, rich, leader and superstar.  One word not commonly applied in this context is “depressed.”

Depression is an illness that affects approximately 15 million American adults each year.  Like many other illnesses, depression has no boundaries in regard to gender, profession or socioeconomic status.

Previously thought to be an illness of adults, depression is often overlooked in children and young adults.

There is no single factor that causes depression. Stress, sleep deprivation, genetics and hormonal fluctuations are among the influences that cause an alteration in brain chemistry ultimately resulting in depression.

Depression often impacts other illnesses.  It can significantly worsen diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

 In athletes, head injury can play a big role in precipitating a bout of depression.  Athletes typically enjoy the benefits of being popular among peers, access to higher education and being in excellent general health.  Unfortunately, many of these advantages can be fleeting.

Eric Hipple, a former NFL quarterback, currently works as an outreach specialist at the University of Michigan Depression Center.  In his book, "Real Men Do Cry," he chronicles his personal experience with depression, bankruptcy and the death of his 15-year-old son from suicide.  “Depression is often brought on by transition and athletes face transition on a regular basis.  Being cut from a team often results in loss of friends, income, support mechanism and daily structure,” said Hipple.

Hipple advises parents to monitor stress levels, be aware of a family history of depression and look for early signs of depression.  Some early warnings are changes in appetite and sleep pattern, poor concentration in class, lack of motivation and overwhelming sadness.

Depression is a treatable illness but identifying and admitting to it early are crucial for a full recovery.

All sports supplements are not created equal

A visit to any athletic training room reveals a variety of tools used to heal the wounds of battle including whirlpools, various adhesives and pads. A recent addition is an area occupied by strength and conditioning specialists. It is in this area of the locker room where discussions of injury prevention predominate.

Improving human performance involves multiple disciplines. Developing a powerful muscular system relies on a variety of fitness activities.

Aerobic or cardiac fitness uses activities like running, biking and swimming. These are designed to build stamina and allow the human body to utilize oxygen efficiently.

Weight lifting and stretch bands are categorized as resistive fitness. These movements are designed to increase power and strength.

Fueling the human body involves a variety of nutrients. The basic components are fat, protein and carbohydrate. It is often the refinement of the nutrition regimen when the picture becomes cloudy.

The use of nutritional supplements that promise to magically transform the human body are often a problem for strength and conditioning specialists responsible for the health of athletes.

Supplements are not subjected to mandatory regulation like drugs.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that provides certification for supplements. The NSF seal of approval means that the contents have met stringent standards and no substances banned by sports leagues are present.

“When athletes inquire about what supplements they can take I tell them to keep it simple and only use those that are NSF approved,” said Mike Wickland, the New York Yankees minor league strength and conditioning coordinator.

Wickland’s advice regarding supplements is certainly applicable for all athletes and he firmly believes that food is the best source of nutrition. “After a workout or a game, I recommend a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with chocolate milk,” advises Wickland.