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Mental Health Challenge on Athletic Trainers

By Marlin Brown, MS, ATC
Athletic Trainer

Emotions are strong and powerful that sometimes cannot be controlled. Athletic trainers must deal with the emotions of the athletes, coaches, and parents. While dealing with everyone emotions, the athletic trainer also must maintain their emotions as well. This can be tough on an athletic trainer’s mental health. If an athletic trainer is not able to manage their emotions, it can cause them to be stressed and become burnout. When athletic trainer’s mental health starts to go down, they are not able to think positively, they can often feel depressed and loose a sense of enjoyment both personally and professionally. This usually results in decreased ability to perform their job at a high level which in turn can put their athletes at greater risk. The mental demand of the profession often drives athletic trainers to either switch professions or settings and potential can lead to a mental breakdown. The biggest problem that athletic trainers are finding is that they do not have enough time to take for themselves, to take a break and rest; rest is a key factor in helping the mind. The National Athletic Training Association (NATA) has a committee called ATCares that helps with support of athletes and athletic trainers. Here are some coping strategies that they have suggested: avoid fault finding, avoid denial or ignoring the problem, remember it is okay to smile and laugh, and share your thoughts with a trusted family, friends, and coworkers.

Another piece of advice that many athletic trainers are told is to leave work at work, however for most athletic trainers and really most healthcare professionals this is very tough to do. They want to please everyone, and provide care to every athlete that is in need. To share a personal story, in 2016, I spoke with one of the defensive football coaches at the high school that I was working with about a football player that I have not seen in a while. He told me that this player was in a mental health care facility because he had a breakdown, which I found out much later that this player was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I reached out to the athlete’s father and checked on his son. He said that his son was back home and said that I could come by to see him. When I went to this athlete’s home to check on him, this player was a different person. He was talking incoherently, and he had a blank stare in his face. I spent about 2 hours just talking to his dad and him before I left their home. As I pulled out of their yard, I drove about thirty feet from their house and pulled off of the side of the road and cried. It was hard for me to see this athlete look the way he did; I tried as much as could to encourage him and let him know that he will be alright and he was getting the help he needed.

I spoke with another athletic trainer, and he told me, “Tomorrow, take a mental health day and do not go to work. You need time to rest and reset yourself.” So athletic trainers need to monitor their emotions and make the time to take care of their mental health. I challenge each of you to take a minute, an hour, a day, a week to focus on your own mental health and reset. You will be better for it and so will the athletes under your care.