Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Athletes are not immune to depression

The death of NFL great Junior Seau has highlighted a topic that doesn’t get much attention — the link between athletics and depression.

Depression is an illness that affects approximately 15 million American adults each year — and athletes are not excluded.  Like many other illnesses, depression has no boundaries in regard to gender, profession or socioeconomic status and is often overlooked in children and young adults.  It can also expedite the affects of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

There is no single factor that causes depression. Stress, sleep deprivation, genetics and hormonal fluctuations are among the influences that cause an alteration in brain chemistry ultimately resulting in depression.

As with any other group, athletes are not immune to depression and its effects. In fact, they might be prone to it in certain circumstances.

After coming off the mountain of being involved in professional sports, it is not uncommon for retired athletes, especially, to lose self-esteem.  This can lead to a downward spiral including drug and alcohol use and depression.

A problem is that depression is not always properly identified, and the stereotypical assumptions can compound the problem. Despite what some people think, being rich and famous does not lesson the possibility of depression.

Athletes typically enjoy the benefits of being popular among peers, access to higher education and being in excellent general health.  Unfortunately, many of these advantages can be fleeting.

Head injuries can also play a role in precipitating a bout of depression. 

The good news is depression is treatable, especially when identified early. If you think you or someone you love is suffering from the disease, talk to your doctor. Depression is widespread — but its symptoms can be managed.

James O’Dea is a psychiatrist and Vice President of Clinical Service Line Development, The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal healthcare provider. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.backushospital.org/backus-blogs or e-mail Dr. O’Dea or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org

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