Society perceives elite athletes as “superhuman beings” with remarkable willpower, speed, strength, skills and abilities that normal people can only aspire to. The idea that elite athletes can suffer mental health issues is unheard of. Rowena Tirop and Kanyali Ilako are two Kenyan sports psychologists who are trying to create awareness on the spread of mental health illnesses among elite athletes.
ASN: Why is mental health important for the longevity of an athletes’ career?
Tirop: Mental health is important for everyone and athletes more so because of the high pressure environment around them from strenuous training to intense competitions. It is important for them to be healthy mentally to thrive in their field.
ASN: For established sportsmen & women which factors cause issues of mental health?
Ilako: Maintaining their status, being able to grow in their earnings financially, avoiding injuries and team cuts, balancing their careers and their home life.
ASN: During this current pandemic, what implications does self isolation have on athletes who are used to training with teammates?
Tirop: It could bring about anxiety, frustration, irritability, depressive moods, lack of motivation, questioning of self and purpose, worry about the future, drug and alcohol use and abuse.
ASN: How can someone suffering from several mental health problems improve their healthcare?
Ilako: Don’t be afraid, ashamed or scared of seeking help from experts like ourselves. Just the same way you would see a doctor immediately you notice a pressing knee injury is the same way you should seek mental health services.
ASN: Tell us a bit more about your current therapy sessions, how are you able to carry them out during this pandemic and what sort of tactics are you applying?
Tirop: We are carrying out online sessions. we have an hour with each team and / or individual we start by seeking and explaining their rights to confidentiality then we take some background information and based on what we find out we tackle these matters systematically. Depending on the level of ailments, a person has about 6-10 sessions with us. The tactics we are applying are offering them various tools for managing themselves during this pandemic. The performance enhancement techniques we use, but are not limited to anxiety and stress management, improving focus and attention, building and maintaining self awareness, easing pain and injury recovery, boosting motivation, effective communication skills and effective goal setting tactics.