Every day, millions of people around the world struggle with their mental health and overall well-being. While treatment exists for those living with a mental illness, a majority of those that need treatment won’t receive the help they so desperately need. As a result, many people are struggling to live a quality life.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), roughly 20% of adults in the United States experience mental illness every year and nearly 1 in 20 adults suffer from a serious mental illness. Unfortunately, less than half of those with a mental illness are receiving treatment for their condition.
In an effort to help spread awareness and encourage people across the country to seek help, the United States dedicates the month of May to Mental Health Awareness Month. The tradition has been observed since 1949 and sees many institutions, organizations, and establishments take part in the movement.
Famous Athletes Who Advocate for Mental Health Awareness
With mental health awareness at an all-time high, many celebrities – including athletes – are choosing to use their platform to help bring more attention to the movement. Understanding the influence they have on people around the world, many athletes and celebrities are dedicated to making a positive change.
Since mental illness can strike anyone at any moment, it’s no surprise that many athletes struggle with mental health and have firsthand experience with how mental illness can negatively impact an individual’s quality of life. Even those that haven’t struggled with their mental health likely know someone who has.
Either way, it’s important that we all come together in this fight against mental illness and continue to encourage those that are struggling to seek the help they so desperately need. And while Mental Health Awareness Month is a quality reminder, we must learn to maintain that level of awareness year-round.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the most famous athletes to either struggle with or speak out against mental illness.
15. Laurie Hernandez
Laurie Hernandez is a 22-year-old artistic gymnast who made her senior debut in 2016. She represented the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she won a gold medal in the team event and a silver medal on the balance beam. She’s also a former Dancing With the Stars winner.
In 2020, Hernandez testified against her coach, Maggie Haney, who was being suspended for abusive conduct. As a result of that abuse, Hernandez suffered from depression and an eating disorder – which have caused her to speak openly about her use of antidepressants and the importance of therapy.
14. Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall is a former wide receiver who spent 13 seasons in the NFL between 2006 and 2018. He retired with 970 catches for 12,351 yards and 83 touchdowns in 179 games played – he had at least 100 catches on six occasions and had at least 1,000 yards receiving on eight occasions in his career.
In 2011, Marshall announced that he had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder – which explained his manic behavior at times and frequent mood swings. He vowed to seek treatment for his disorder and has since become one of the NFL’s longtime advocates for mental health awareness.
13. Gracie Gold
Gracie Gold is a 27-year-old American figure skater who made her senior debut in 2012 and continues to compete to this day. She represented the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where she won a bronze medal in the team event. She holds an American record in the short program with 76.43.
Gold has been a longtime advocate for mental health – really ever since she was treated for anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder in 2017. She was featured in a documentary titled The Weight of Gold, which talked about mental illness in athletes – the documentary was narrated by Michael Phelps.
12. Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim is a 23-year-old American snowboarder who made her Winter X Games debut at just 14 years old. She has won five gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze medal at the Winter X Games, two gold medals at the World Championships, and two gold medals at the Winter Olympics (2018 and 2022).
Kim started speaking out about her struggles with mental health in 2021, which reached an all-time low following the 2018 Winter Olympics. Being an international superstar robbed her of privacy and made it hard to cope with life, but therapy helped give her an opportunity to release her stress and find peace.
11. Abby Wambach
Abby Wambach is a 42-year-old American retired soccer player who made her international debut in 2001 and senior debut in 2002 – she spent four years at the University of Florida between 1998 and 2001. She won two Olympic gold medals and one FIFA World Cup with the United States’ national team.
Wambach opened up about her past struggles with mental health and addiction. She first started using prescription pain pills for medical reasons, but started abusing them and was also a heavy drinker – she was arrested with a DUI charge in 2016, but has been sober for seven years as she changes her ways.
10. Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott is a 29-year-old quarterback who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He has led the Cowboys to a 61-36-0 record over the past seven years, throwing for 24,943 yards, 166 touchdowns, and 65 interceptions – adding 1,642 yards and 26 TDs on the ground.
Prescott opened up about his struggle with depression, which started becoming a problem after losing his brother, Jace Prescott, to suicide in 2020 – he also credited the COVID-19 pandemic for his depression. He continues to urge others to share their stories with loved ones and be more open about their struggles.
9. Serena Williams
Serena Williams is a 41-year-old former American tennis player who turned professional in October 1995 and retired in September 2022. She has an 858-156 career singles record with 73 singles titles and 23 Grand Slam singles titles – she also has 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. She’s one of the best of all-time.
Williams opened up about her mental health struggles in 2018 following her loss at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic. She later took to social media to share her experience with postpartum depression, having given birth to her first child a year prior. She stressed the importance of communicating with loved ones.
8. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is a 36-year-old former UFC champion and current WWE champion. She made a name for herself in judo, winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics before starting a career in mixed martial arts. She’s the first female fighter inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame and is now thriving in the WWE.
Rousey has been open about her struggle with mental health, which entered an all-time worse after her loss to Holly Holm in 2015 – her first ever loss in the UFC. She contemplated suicide after that loss, but credited her husband and family for helping her through the dark times and urges others to seek help.
7. A.J. Brown
A.J. Brown is a 25-year-old wide receiver who currently plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft and has already recorded 273 catches for 4,491 yards and 35 touchdowns over the past four seasons. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler.
In November 2021, Brown posted a video on social media that detailed his experience with depression – which included suicidal thoughts. He wanted to share his story in hopes of inspiring and encouraging others to seek the help they so desperately need. He added that he’s in a much better place now.
6. DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan is a 33-year-old guard-forward who currently plays for the Chicago Bulls and has spent the past 14 seasons in the NBA – including stints with the Spurs and Raptors. He’s averaging 21.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.0 steals per game in 1,031 career games played. He’s a six-time All-Star.
DeRozan first opened up about his struggle with depression in February 2018 when he posted about it on social media. He later spoke to the Toronto Star about his mental health, explaining that we’re all human – no matter how indestructible we appear. Like everyone else, his feelings get the best of him sometimes.
5. Kevin Love
Kevin Love is a 34-year-old power forward who currently plays for the Miami Heat and has spent the past 15 seasons in the NBA – including stints with Minnesota and Cleveland. He’s averaging 16.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game (874 games). He’s a 5-time All-Star and one-time NBA champion.
In September 2020, Love wrote a personal essay for The Players’ Tribune in which he detailed his struggles with depression. His mental health started to deteriorate while playing for Minnesota, more specifically when he broke his hand twice in the same season. He was soon ‘paralyzed with depression.’
4. Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps is a 37-year-old retired American competitive swimmer who made his Olympic debut in 2000 at just 15 years old. While he failed to bring home a medal, he went on to win 23 gold medals, three silver medals, and two bronze medals for the United States at the Olympics between 2004 and 2016.
Phelps has been open about his past struggles with mental health, depression, and substance abuse – he was charged with DUI in 2004 and in 2014. He started to experience suicidal thoughts after his 2014 DUI, but admitted himself into rehab and has been a major voice in the mental health space ever since.
3. Hayden Hurst
Hayden Hurst is a 29-year-old tight end who currently plays for the Carolina Panthers and has spent the past five seasons in the NFL – including stints with the Ravens, Falcons, and Bengals. In 70 career games played, Hurst has 177 catches for 1,718 yards and 14 touchdowns – including 414 yards last year.
While football players are usually viewed as tough and physical guys, that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with mental health issues. He struggled with depression for years and even attempted suicide in 2016 – he was drafted into the NFL two years later. He now urges others to speak out and seek help.
2. Simone Biles
Simone Biles is a 26-year-old American artistic gymnast who made her senior debut in 2013 at the age of 16. She represented the United States at the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics – bringing home four gold, one silver, and two bronze medals. She also has 25 medals (19 gold) at the World Championships.
Biles made headlines when she withdrew herself from the team event during the 2020 Summer Olympics – later citing her mental health as the reason for withdrawing. “I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a backseat, work on my mindfulness, and I knew that the girls would do an absolutely great job.”
1. Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka is a 25-year-old Japanese tennis player who turned professional in September 2013 and continues to play to this day. She has a 265-148 career singles record with seven singles titles and four Grand Slam titles – including the Australian Open (2019 and 2021) and US Open (2018 and 2020).
Osaka has been open about her struggles with mental health over the past few years – withdrawing from several of the season’s biggest tournaments to focus on her well-being on several occasions. More specifically, she has spoken about her social anxiety and how it negatively impacts her day-to-day life.
What to Do When Mental Health Starts to Decline
Mental health plays an essential role in one’s ability to live a happy, healthy, and quality life. Unfortunately, too many people in the world today are struggling to achieve that type of life and are resorting to negative behavior and/or bad habits as a means of escaping their suicidal thoughts and poor outlook on life.
Some of the most tell-tale signs of poor mental health include poor sleeping patterns, frequent irritability, a loss of joy in life, changes to one’s eating habits or diet, loss of motivation, low energy or fatigue, suicidal thoughts, poor performance at work or home, and distancing or isolating oneself from social situations.
Improving one’s mental health requires a commitment from the affected individual, as well as a strong support system that consists of loved ones who are chasing a similar goal. It’s a journey for all those involved and one that’s best served with the help of a professional – so don’t hesitate to seek help today!
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