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The downside of fame and fortune: elite athletes and mental health problems

  • June 14, 2021

An athlete's happiness in life is not necessarily related to how full his or her trophy cabinet is. Tennis player Naomi Osaka (23) - four-time Grand Slam winner and the highest-paid athlete on Earth - made headlines around the world when she withdrew from Roland Garros and spoke openly about her long-standing depression since she won the US Open in 2018. As fame grew, her mental health deteriorated.

In this article, Paul shines his light on elite athletes and psychological problems. He states that one in five top athletes has to deal with psychological problems. Such problems come in varying degrees, but go beyond a dip of a few days or weeks. That percentage is not significantly higher than in the general population.

Wylleman distinguishes between athletes who already have a profile with a tendency to depressive disorders and athletes who develop this during their career. The performance context of elite sport comprise several factors that can contribute to the development of depression. For example, performance pressure, fear of failure, dealing with expectations, with the media, with setbacks such as injuries, overtraining, an eating disorders. Even a title or gold medal, just as much as missing an Olympic medal or an early elimination from a major tournament, can make an athlete very unhappy. Sometimes expectations become so high from the moment of the first prize that it can only be disappointing. On the other hand, some athletes have worked towards something so intensively and solo for years. Then they reach their goal and they think: What now? They come back from the Olympics, all the attention goes out and there they are. A beautiful medal around the neck, but empty-handed in everyday life.

The full article (in Dutch) can be consulted here: pdf fileThe downside of fame and fortune- elite athletes and mental health problems.pdf (3.75 MB)