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.