Avoiding Depression after an Injury

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Guide
  • An athlete can experience a wide range of emotions following an injury. Depressed mood is one of the most common emotions felt among athletes after they have been hurt. Some estimate that over half of athletes who are injured suffer at least mild depression (Leddy et al., 1994). The severity of the depression an athlete experiences can vary depending on many different factors. For example, female athletes have a greater chance of experiencing depression as compared to male athletes. The odds are greater that younger college students (freshmen) will become depressed post injury as compared to upper classmen. Depression can be very serious. If you or an athlete you know has recently been injured, follow these tips to help prevent depression.

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    1. Get (the best) medical help as soon as possible.

    Athletes can be a stubborn bunch. Some believe the old adage, “no pain, no gain” but this is outdated thinking. If some part of your body is consistently causing you pain, get a qualified medical professional involved sooner than later. Allowing an injury to go untreated can cause numerous serious side effects and potentially put you out of the game all together. Last year, I had a sore heel and everyone told me it was a common disorder, plantar fasciitis, so I did not take it as seriously as I should have. It was not until I saw a doctor at a specialized foot and ankle center that I found out it was a serious nerve injury. Starting with the best medical care could have saved me time and heartache.


    2. Still be a part of the team.

    For many, their sport’s team is their world. Taking the team away from an individual post-injury can be devastating, especially when practice time is the time to see friends and get social support (especially in high school). If an athlete is injured, it is important that the athlete still spends time with friends on the team. After an injury, one needs friends more than ever. The athlete should be encouraged to participate as much as possible with the team while recovering.


    3. Find at least some control of the situation.

    The feeling of lack of control in one’s life can lead to depression. An injury can make an athlete feel like he or she has lost control over her body. It is therefore important that an athlete finds different ways to gain as much control over the situation as possible while recovering. For example, physical therapy cannot only help physically but doing the exercises can make the athlete feel like he is making a difference in his own recovery.


    4. Keep moving.

    When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins make athletes feel happy and also help to manage stress. If an injury causes an athlete to stop exercising, then his mood could become more depressed from a purely chemical standpoint. It is extremely important that if at all possible, athletes keep the endorphins flowing during recovery. This might be a big challenge, but a physical therapist or athletic trainer will be able to help with ideas. For example, if you have a running injury and are not allowed to do any weight bearing exercises, you might be able to go to a pool with a running vest on to keep up the running motion and heart rate.  


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    5. Know the signs of depression.

    Detecting depression in an athlete after an injury can be tricky. Some of the changes an athlete will experience after an injury may be similar to the signs of depression. For example, weight changes can be one sign of depression but an athlete’s weight can also change if his or her level of physical activity suddenly drops. There are multiple signs of depression, but in general terms, a person who is suffering from depression may not be interested in the things he usually loved. Or he or she may have significant sleep changes or an overall loss of energy or feeling of sadness that lasts for more than two weeks. The best way to determine if you or someone you love is suffering from depression is to check in with a medical professional, especially someone who knows the signs of depression and also knows you well as a person. Athletes can suffer from depression just like anyone else.

Published On: August 20, 2014