Supporting mental and psychosocial well-being need of the hour

The sporting world has come to a standstill in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, and there are growing concerns regarding the mental health of athletes.

"Athletes have a very tight schedule and now suddenly, there's this huge change. Coping with a particular change that has been imposed on us, long term, can be difficult to deal with," says consultant psychologist of the Indian women's hockey team Priyanka Prabhakar.   -  Hockey India Twitter

A survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society reveals "the number of people suffering from mental illness in the country has shot up by a significant 20 per cent within just one week of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak."

Like everything else, the sporting world has come to a standstill, and there are growing concerns regarding the mental health of athletes.

Consultant psychologist of the Indian women's hockey team Priyanka Prabhakar believes self-isolation has instilled fear and uncertainty in many. "Athletes have a very tight schedule and now suddenly, there's this huge change. Coping with a particular change that has been imposed on us, long term, can be difficult to deal with."

Somya Awasthi, co-founder, Credo Psychological Services, says the biggest challenge for an athlete is disrupted training and fitness regime. The athletes, now at home, may also have their diet-plans affected to a large extent. She says: "Maybe they are trying to do things with whatever little is available at home, but you know it's not the same as being in a national camp. Also, they are not having the equipment they were privy to before.

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"Sports is their life. And once they're not able to identify with it, it might cause a feeling of self-doubt or guilt that they're not doing enough. With events like the Olympics postponed, there is an added task for them to keep the steam going."

Somya adds that in difficult times like these, a very powerful tool to keep yourself mentally fit is guided imagery. "In guided imagery, you take out 10 minutes, sit and just imagine details of a skill that you would normally like to perform. We use it to improve mistakes when athletes are injured and enhance their attention. So it's basically doing what is the right thing to do on the field. But here you are just seated and going through all of it in your head. You need to time it and be realistic. It needs to have perspective and emotions to feel like being in the physical state on the ground."

Priyanka assures "acceptance of the issue" at hand is key. "I think, first of all, you need to acknowledge the reality and gravity of the situation to reduce anxiety. A lot of coaches are providing online training, handing sportspersons a schedule they can follow. I think it's also very important to socially connect with people – both virtually and at home. You can call acquaintances once in a while. Physical fitness, of course, will be a concern for some athletes but they have to make do with limited equipments."

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It is uncertain, as to when normalcy will be restored. Can prolonged social-distancing induce long-term imbalances? There is a chance, especially in younger athletes with limited exposure, concur Priyanka and Somya, but it is highly unlikely.

"Sports personalities, in general, are mostly extremely resilient and gritty. But then again, there will be individual differences. They have had experiences of being injured, or maybe, having to lose a crucial game. They are subject to a gruelling routine that has been drilled into them. And they will get through that... most of them. Also, the kind of support they're getting, at this point of time, will have a very big impact on how they stage their comeback," Somya said. 

(Priyanka, Somya and others at Credo Psychological Services provide online/ telephonic counselling from 10 am-6 pm. Drop a mail to contact@credo-psych.com to book appointments.)

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