The TFAA wants athlete members to know that we’re here for you before, during and after the games. Depression is a real issue that impacts many Olympic athletes. You are not alone. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to connect with a professional about this issue.
You will hear about it. You will read about it. You will believe it will not happen to you, but in my experience almost every full time Olympic athlete will experience a post-Olympic depression. The gravity of the depression will largely depend on the individual. It may be acute onset or it might creep up on you slowly in the days and weeks following the conclusion of the games. Understand that you are not alone. Understand that many athletes experience a major low after the games conclude.
A recent article on ESPN.com featuring Allison Schmitt detailed her struggles with depression following the 2012 Olympics. A quote from fellow swimmer, Anthony Ervin sums it up well:
“When you’re still in the throes of that ‘athlete’s death’ — when you’re in that dark place, when help tries to reach out to you — you don’t think that the help understands,” said Ervin, 35, who made a comeback in 2011 and has qualified for two events in Rio. “The isolation that it becomes necessary to create as a champion almost becomes the isolation that keeps him separate and rotting in that dark place.”
These words will likely resonate with many of the full-time Olympic athletes. As Anthony so accurately describes, much of what it takes to make you great in an individual sport is your ability to endure the isolation of training. Athletes justify a constant withdrawal from social norms in the name of training. Friends, family, and events are often categorized a distractions and at some level they are. When you’re wholly focused on preparing for the Olympic Games, you do not even realize the distance, the gaps, the voids that you have created. It’s when the games end that the silence is magnified by the loss of focus and becomes deafening.
If you had a great games, you may walk away with a medal. A medal beget media attention. This media attention creates value for you as a professional, so you will pursue it. To maximize the exposure you’re told to act a certain way and you do that too, because you will know that deep down inside no one wants to hear how hard it is for an Olympic athlete after the Olympics are over. They want to hear about the struggle that led to the very public triumph and how awesome it is to represent your country. And it is awesome. There is nothing like it in the world of sports except maybe the World Cup.
But don’t forget the spirit of Olympism is based on this notion of the Olympic struggle. It is the only thing you are guaranteed as an Olympic Hopeful and as an Olympian, just like it’s the only thing you are guaranteed in life. You may win a reprieve from the struggle in the immediate aftermath of a successful Olympic campaign, but the struggle returns quickly. And if you’re not prepared for it, it will dominate you.
The TFAA hopes that if you are experiencing the darker side of the struggle, you will reach out to us or someone else. We’re building a network of professionals that are here to help you work through this mess. You are no alone.