Let’s prioritise the mental health of our sportspersons

Mental health

In January, a police report showed that 12,000 of 110,000 officers were facing mental health challenges.

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What you need to know:

  • I have personally struggled with panic attacks and it wasn’t until just recently that I knew what I was actually going through.

I have been practicing sports journalism for over a decade now and I have been privileged to forge friendships with some of Kenya’s leading sportsmen and women.

Some of these friendships have blossomed beyond my scope of work and I am really grateful for that.

One of these sportsmen recently opened up to me about suffering severe depression, surprisingly enough, when he was at his prime and earning good money while featuring for a club outside the country.

It was by far his best contract ever. He was playing football in a good club and everything seemed okay. But he was depressed.

This is someone I have known for a while and I consider a close friend yet I never knew he was depressed. He was always jovial and always had fun when on holiday. Not even his family knew he was depressed. Actually, I was the first person he revealed this to. Not even his teammates knew what he was going through.

And that is not a secluded case. Several sportsmen have recently opened up on facing mental health issues. Many of you might not know Rashid Mahazi. He is a Kenyan-Australian footballer who retired from the game late last year also citing mental challenges.

At 28, Mahazi was at what many would say the peak of his career having played professionally in Argentina, Australia and South Korea. He says severe anxiety attacks made him turn his back on football and he had to call time on his career.

Former Chelsea and AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato also recently revealed how he struggled mentally after injury issues derailed his career. He opened up on how the move to China in 2017 helped him get better mentally, how he started seeing a therapist after that and working on his relationships.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka has also openly talked about her struggles with depression. Those are just a few examples of sportsmen and women that have been courageous enough to talk about their mental challenges.

I have personally struggled with panic attacks and it wasn’t until just recently that I knew what I was actually going through.

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, one out of four people who seek healthcare in Kenya suffer from a mental health condition with depression the most common issue.

The good thing though is that the government has taken note of the situation and established the Mental Health taskforce last year which is already working on a number of reforms and policies.

The Mathari Mental Hospital, Kenya’s premier psychiatric facility, has been neglected and underfunded for years but it is good to hear that it will be relocated to Karen and converted into a professional mental health hospital.

As all this is happening, it is also a good time for sporting organisations to plug into the discussions and help in the formulation of policies and strategies targeting sportsmen and women.

For instance, there’s need for sportspersons to have access to professional counselling services regularly, there’s need for sensitisation programmes since many sports people are going through mental health issues unaware and finally, there should be some sort of investment into these programmes.

There’s no health without mental health and we therefore cannot continue ignoring the well-being of our athletes.

At a personal level, sportsmen should open up about mental health. You have to be honest about your mental health status. Talk to someone. Don’t be afraid of starting therapy sessions if you have to.

There are many qualified therapists online that are willing to support sportsmen and women. Go for it. A mentally healthy athlete will always perform and live better.

Jeff Kinyanjui is multimedia journalist currently working as the Lead Editor at Mozzart Sport. Twitter: @_JeffKinyanjui

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