Last week, Santiago "Morro" García, an Uruguayan football player living in Argentina, committed suicide after months of fighting depression. The news impacted South America and everyone who has seen him play before, regardless of which team their hearts belong to. It also began a new debate: how safe is sportspeople's mental health in a business that seems to only be worried about physical performance?
Mental health in sports hasn't been in the spotlight lately, as people made sure to pretend emotional issues are unusual or even non-existent in this area. The media has only insisted on this topic in the case of retired athletes. The focus was on the existential emptiness of the retired, on not knowing what to do with life and with time after years devoted to two simple things: playing and winning.
A survey conducted at the end of last year by the Argentina Dorada website among 480 athletes from 69 different disciplines reveals that the problem exceeds the colorful world of the ball and covers the entire sports spectrum: 4 out of 10 athletes acknowledged having experienced anxiety symptoms. 2 out of 10 suffered from depression at some point in their careers, 25 had suicidal thoughts or concerns, and 5 of them made at least one attempt to kill themselves.
No matter the statistics, there are still dozens of athletes and others related to sports that prefer to hide their troubles and pretend everything's cool. They believe that being fragile and hesitant is giving an advantage that should not be given. Because high-end sport is not for the weak of character but for the strong, the daring, the audacious who take everything ahead, handing over their body and mind to an industry that discards them when they no longer serve them.
An Argentinian journalist said this past week, "Mental health does not distinguish positions on the court, nor is it bought with money, prestige or recognition.", and I couldn't agree more. Being a professional athlete provides a lot of things in a short period of time, and sometimes this wide change cannot be easily tolerated and controlled. Too much money, too much recognition, too much exposure, too many bad people, too many addictions, too much chaos. A lot of everything, and sometimes a lot of nothing.