Exercise and physical activity are things that we all need in our lives, and as long as they are pleasurable and challenging in good measure then all is well. Occasionally, exercise that started out as fun can become gradually more laden with anxiety and pressure. It can become apparent, all of a sudden, that we have begun to set too higher demands on ourselves and our performance.
Sport and mental illness
Nearly 30% of all Swedish athletes have experienced mental illness at some point during their career. Training and performing at a high level can involve many challenges, such as attempting to study and perform in sport simultaneously.
Many athletes can find it difficult to talk about their problems, but help is at hand, you can read more on the National Sports Federation’s website for young athletes #ViLifter
Research from Sweden on mental health in elite sports
If you notice that you, a friend, or a relative, are feeling low and that this lasts for more than a few weeks, it is important to take action, for example, by talking to an adult you trust.
We humans have different ways of reacting when faced with stresses and strains, and below are some potential signs that a person has low mood.
Psychological / emotional signs
- Thinking almost exclusively about exercise and having difficulty enjoying and focusing on other things in life that they previously appreciated.
- Feeling sad or down.
- Feeling stressed or worried.
- Easily irritated or angry.
- Feeling like a bad person if they have not achieved a goal that they have set themselves.
- Having difficulty concentrating, for example on school work.
- Experiencing palpitations or feeling dizzy.
- Feeling tired.
- Having reduced appetite, having no enjoyment in eating, comfort eating, or eating far more than usual.
- Having difficulty sleeping.
- Pain that doesn’t relent e.g. headache.
- Exercising so much that they don’t have time or energy for other activities, e.g. for spending time with friends.
- Spending a lot of time thinking about their body weight or shape.
Our thoughts, feelings and physical reactions are closely linked to our behaviours. If we notice that we aren’t feeling good, and find ways to handle it well, then it is likely that we will “get back on track” again.
It is often enough to talk to an adult who you trust, for example, a parent, relative or teacher, so that you, together, can make a plan to help you feel better. If this isn’t enough then you should not hesitate to contact a school nurse or school counsellor, for example, and tell them how you feel. Depending on how old you are and where you live, it is also possible to get help via a Child Health, Youth Health or BUP service.
If you feel worried that someone in your social circle is feeling so bad that they may hurt themselves, or that they are perhaps even thinking about taking their own life, then talk to that person. You can say, “I can see that you aren’t feeling good, do you want to talk about it? Then try to listen openly, considerately and with interest.
Self-harming behavior can manifest in several ways and with varying severity. It can be used for various purposes, such as attempting to regulate emotions, or get rid of unwanted and difficult-to-handle feelings, thoughts and experiences. It can be a way of punishing oneself, but also a way to get in touch with feelings. To understand more about self-harm, and how to help, it may be good to learn more about it. Even if you are the one self-harming, it can be helpful to gain more knowledge, to know that you are not alone and to find out what help is available.
It is not uncommon to have suicidal thoughts at some time in life, but when such thoughts reoccur and take up a lot of time, it is serious and help is required. These feelings can often be ones of great loneliness and hopelessness for life. You really don’t want to die, but you don’t know how to cope with life.
Significant life events to look out for are:
- A significant disappointment or failure.
- Loss; of relatives, a relationship, of work, status, or money
- Disease; depression, anxiety, but also physical illnesses or injuries
The use of alcohol or drugs is always a risk factor, as this can easily result in impulsive actions.
Changes in a person’s behavior can also be a warning sign that things aren’t quite as they should be.
You can make a difference just by being there and showing you care.
The only way to know if someone is thinking about suicide is to ask them about it. It can be difficult, but asking does not increase the risk of it happening. On the contrary it is a way of showing that you care and are even willing to talk about difficult topics. You can emphasise that there is help available and that you are willing to go with the person to find help.
Always take talk about suicide seriously and never promise to keep someone’s suicidal thoughts secret.
Support and available help
In emergency situations you should always call 112.
Links to organisations:
Links to more information and support:
- Steg för livet
- MIND – för psykisk hälsa
- Suicide Zero
- Broschyr Att prata om självmord är ett skydd för livet
Useful links are (Swedish):
UMO (youth mental health help online) about self-harm
Nationella självskadeprojektet have web-based information and education about treating self-harm.
Frisk och fri – National association for eating disorders
Legitimerad psykoterapeut och dubbel docent (psykologi och idrottsvetenskap). Forskare vid Athletics Research Center (ARC), Linköpings universitet. Förbundskompetent idrottspsykologisk rådgivare och klinisk psykoterapeut.