Athletes Who Have Been Open About Mental Health

Mental health problems are often concealed in the sports industry where strength, endurance and control are seen as the norm. The conversation around mental health usually only hits the headlines when a high-profile athlete opens up about their struggles.

This really came to light in the summer of 2021, when top ranked (No.2) ATP Women’s Division player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing struggles with depression and anxiety as the reason. American gymnast Simone Biles followed Osaka by withdrawing from individual all-around competition at the 2021 Summer Olympic Games to focus on her mental health as well.  Each move was unprecedented in their respective sports. While these high-profile athletes were celebrated in the mainstream for their decisions, leagues, organizations, media, and fans have not always been so kind. However, the importance of shining a light on athletes who have been open about mental health is important. In doing so, the hope is that “everyday people” no longer have to hide in the shadows with their own struggles.

In this article, we look at other notable athletes who have suffered from mental health problems and/or used their profile to highlight the issue.

5 More Professional Athletes Who Have Been Open About their Mental Health Struggles so that Others May Feel Inspired to Get Help

Ben Simmons | NBA Player

NBA basketball star, Ben Simmons, has spoken out about the mental health problems he experienced while signed for the Philadelphia 76ers. In an interview on JJ Redick’s podcast, “The Old Man and The Three”, he explained that coaches and some teammates failed to offer help and support when he was unable to play. 

At the start of the 2021-22 season, Simmons was fined $1.4 million for missing four pre-season games and then told to leave a training session by head coach Doc Rivers for being a “distraction”. In the interview, Simmons claimed he had advised Rivers he was not mentally ready to play before the practice, but the coach refused to listen.

The Sixers became increasingly frustrated that Simmons was receiving mental health support from the National Basketball Players Association rather than the team’s doctors. And, as a result of his continued absence, he was fined over $19 million for missing 50 regular-season games. In February 2022, Simons left the Philadelphia 76ers to play for Brooklyn Nets.

Paddy Pimblett | UFC Fighter

English professional mixed martial artist, Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett, has used his platform to highlight the stigma around men’s mental health. In a post-fight interview in July 2022, he dedicated his UFC London win to friend Ricky who died from suicide just hours before. Pimblett urged more men to speak openly about their mental health: “If you’re a man and you’ve got weight on your shoulders and think the only way you can solve it is by killing yourself, please speak to someone.”

The speech went viral and he has since received messages from thousands of people, including some saying his powerful words stopped them from taking their own life. Pimblett said these messages mean more to him than any win. He has also been approached by over 100 charitable organizations to become an ambassador. However, Pimblett is currently in the process of setting up his own mental health charity.

Graeme Obree | Racing Cyclist

Scottish racing cyclist, Graeme Obree, has been very open about his bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) and three suicide attempts. Obree’s autobiography, “Flying Scotsman: Cycling to Triumph Through My Darkest Hours” – which was made into a 2006 film starring Jonny Lee Miller – lays bare the mental health problems he has battled throughout his professional career.

Obree revealed that 90% of the correspondence he now receives is not from cycling fans, but from people struggling with depression. He has talked about writing a survivor’s guide to depression, “because I went through 10 years of therapy and in the end found my own way of dealing with life and staying positive, which I need to pass onto people.”

Jamey Rootes | NFL First Teams President

It is not just athletes who are affected by psychological issues. Like with any organization, people from all areas of the industry are experiencing mental health problems. For some, it’s too late to get help. In August 2022, Jamey Rootes – former Houston Texans’ first team president – died aged 56 after battling mental health issues. In a statement announcing his death, Rootes’ wife implored anyone thinking about suicide, or experiencing a health crisis, to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide deaths in the US have risen in recent years. Read our article ‘The Uncomfortable Trend of Suicide in the US’ to discover more about common suicide risk factors and warning signs. Being open about mental health struggles and seeking support is crucial to help prevent more tragic losses.

Kevin Love | NBA Player

We round out this article on athletes who have been open about mental health with a return to the NBA. In 2018, All-star Kevin Love penned a letter to The Players’ Tribune in which he opened up about his own mental health struggles. Since then, he has been a staunch mental health activist for the league. Despite certain teams failing their players in this capacity (i.e. Ben Simmons’ case above) it seems that the league is finally stepping up:

“In what would be an unprecedented and progressive change for American pro sports, the NBA and NBPA are discussing measures to allow players to cite mental health issues as an ailment similar to physical injury, per sources with knowledge of the talks […] Similar to when players treat external injuries, this new addition would give players the ability to treat their mental health concerns with the same gravity, allowing for things such as the seeking of second opinions and psychiatrist visits.

The Athletic, September 2022

Are You Struggling with Mental Health Too?

Of course, high-profile athletes aren’t the only ones who feel that they must hide their mental health concerns. But if left untreated, mental health problems can negatively affect school, work, relationships and much more. 

If you – or someone you care about – needs mental health care, we can help. At Kindbridge, we provide high-quality online therapy tailored to your specific requirements. Our fully-licensed counselors can provide different treatment options – individual, couples, family and group counseling – accessible from any location. Moreover, we specialize in treating athletes at collegiate, amateur, and professional levels alike.

Contact us today to discuss your needs and situation. Call +1 (877) 426-4258 or email [email protected].