Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: Highlighting experiences, voices in sport

Sports

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, this May, ESPN highlights the stories of athletes, coaches and other sports figures who have experienced personal battles with mental health, and who want to use their platforms to openly discuss what happened next, and what helped them.

These stories reflect a broad range of subjects and experiences, including life amid the coronavirus pandemic, living with anxiety, depression, coping with pressure in their respective sports, dealing with addiction, and many more.


Double Olympic taekwondo champion Jade Jones has said she suffered from anxiety in lockdown and “wasn’t in a good place” at last summer’s Tokyo Games.

“I didn’t realise how much lockdown affected me,” Jones said. “I haven’t really spoken about it because it’s not the kind of thing I do. But I was struggling with a lot of anxiety in lockdown and had never really experienced that before. I was petrified to go near my family, thinking I was going to pass on this deadly thing — like everybody was. I was over-thinking everything. That’s where it started from.”


Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton spoke about his mental and emotional struggles, saying in a social media post in March that it was “hard some days to stay positive.”


The New Zealand allrounder talks to ESPN’s Valkerie Baynes about how her mental-health break made her appreciate the value of sharing your problems with your loved ones


Paralympian and para-triathlete Melissa Stockwell, BMX rider Alise Willoughby and skateboarder Jordyn Barratt (pictured) discuss what it’s been like in the months following the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and how they deal with the post-Games blues.


Andy Lewis has a phrase tattooed on his left leg: Never Give Up. It’s more than a slogan; it’s a way of life for the 38-year-old. He is a father, a husband, who is also an amputee and a Paralympic champion with ADHD. He is now also a business owner who came close to taking his own life before a stranger — who became a friend — talked him round.

From struggling at school to having a life in the army snatched away from him, from taking the decision to amputate his right leg to winning gold in Rio, Lewis has never given up. Just don’t call him superhuman.


For footballers up and down the U.K., the start of a new season is filled with hope. But for some, the big kick-off is just another reminder that their own dream is over.

“Coming towards the end of my contract at Manchester United, I knew that my time was up,” Demetri Mitchell tells ESPN. “I knew it was coming, but when you get the news, it still hits you hard. I didn’t think it was going to be [hard] because I already knew that my time was up, but when I was told, it was tough.

“My lowest point was not knowing if I would play again. I was probably overthinking and being a bit dramatic, but in my head I was thinking, ‘Am I going to play again, am I going to be all right, what am I going to do if I can’t play?’ That period was a very mentally challenging time for me. I tried not to show it as much as possible, but the people around me who are close to me could pick up on it and luckily I had that support.”


New Zealand captain and opening batter Sophie Devine talks about her mental health struggles, the influence of Naomi Osaka and how Hove felt like home against England.


Tom Dumoulin thought his career as a professional cyclist was over in January 2020 when he took a five-month hiatus from the sport citing a need for a physical and mental break.

The Dutchman reveals why a break from elite sport to recover and walk his dog allowed him to come back stronger and more motivated which led him to the Tokyo Olympics to win a second silver medal.


For former South Africa goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo, there was no real rock bottom when it came to alcohol, and there was no single thing that made him go from a teetotal professional footballer to someone with a drinking problem. However, he came out of it.

After a few sober years, though, he now faces a new loss after he was struck by what he calls a ‘point blank, full-blast’ shot to the face in training, resulting in the functional loss of vision in his left eye. Despite this news, Mhlongo tells ESPN why he is determined to to keep on the mentally healthy road that took him so long to find.


Athletes spend their days preparing their bodies to undertake extreme physical exertion but Psycho-Social Lead for the Sunrisers cricket team Kate Green is trying to make them understand the importance of working on their mental health. Working with Sunrisers’ Regional Director of Women’s Cricket Danni Warren, the two women want to hammer home the point that prevention can be better than a cure.

In this exclusive interview with Valkerie Baynes, the women explain that most girls don’t go through an academy system that supported their personal and professional development in the same way as their male counterparts and tell ESPN what they’re doing to change that.


Joe Bryan can’t remember how he felt during the best moments of his career. He only recalls those two goals he scored against Brentford in the 2020 Championship playoff final, which earned Fulham promotion to the Premier League and a £170m windfall, through watching highlights. Nor can he remember the emotions of scoring a wondergoal against Manchester United for Bristol City in 2017.

But he can vividly recall the moments mid-match in which he was gripped by anxiety, and that feeling of wanting to run 100 miles away from being him in that moment. There are mornings where he wakes up “feeling like s—“; those minutes are vivid, too. “I still question whether I have a right to be playing where I am, whether I’m good enough to be where I am,” he told ESPN. “I still question myself.”


When Stuart Meaker went through a divorce two years ago, he started speaking to a therapist. Realising there’s no quick fix when mental health issues arise, he has continued those sessions every couple of weeks, well beyond the initial three months or so that seems standard when someone seeks help through a difficult life event.

In that time, Meaker, the Sussex seamer who was once on the fast-track to England honours, has learnt a lot about quick fixes.

“What a lot of people do when they end up going through difficult life circumstances or relationship break-ups is they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their job and their career, their cricket, whatever it is, because it’s a great means of distraction,” Meaker tells ESPNcricinfo.


During the delay of the 2020 Formula One season, drivers used various strategies to keep themselves occupied. McLaren’s Lando Norris tells ESPN’s Nate Saunders why he decided to use his platform to be open about his mental health, and how he inadvertently helped others.

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