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Health & Safety
| May 18, 2022

Video: Mental Health & Wellness for Athletes

By Paul Ohanian

Lizzie Colson is an elite athlete. She was a two-time national champion as a member of the women’s lacrosse team at the University of Maryland, and she’s now a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team preparing for the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship. For most of her athletic career, she’s been devoid of failure.

One of the few setbacks that Colson’s had to endure came in 2019, when she suffered an ACL injury while training with the U.S. Women’s Team.

“In the blink of an eye, it was all taken from me and I didn’t really know where to go,” Colson said. “It was really tough for me.”

The toll of surgery, rehab, recovery, and all the other aspects of the injury, including isolation from her friends, eventually caught up with Colson. She began to struggle.

“I was not doing a great job of hiding it,” Colson explained. “My mom saw it, my athletic trainer saw it, my coaches saw it. They sat me down and encouraged me to talk to someone about everything I was dealing with.”

The help she needed came from a sports psychologist, who helped Colson eventually move past her struggles. She also came to understand that she was not unique.

In one recent study of college athletes, 24-percent were found to have clinical depression. That figure did not include anxiety disorders or other issues that may also be occurring.

“Fortunately, in recent years we’ve seen a reduction in some of the stigma associated with mental health in athletes and there’s more and more athletes talking about their concerns,” said Dr. Andrew Wolanin, a clinical sports psychologist and a member of the USA Lacrosse Sports Science & Safety Committee. 

Colson, Wolanin, and Dr. Tim Herzog, a licensed psychologist, all served as panelists for a discussion of mental health and wellness for athletes as part of the 2021 USA Lacrosse Sports Medicine Symposium, presented by MedStar Health.

Mental Health & Wellness for Athletes

“Meeting with a sports psychologist helped me to recognize my pain and then confront the feelings that were in front of me,” Colson said. “It helped me to find my identity again.”

Wolanin notes that injury, similar to Colson’s experience, is the most significant risk factor in mental wellness for athletes across all sports. He encourages advance planning by sports teams and organizations for connecting athletes and families with the proper help when its needed.

“Sometimes, it can be a bit of a challenge to find the right referral, especially with youth sports,” Wolanin said. “Identifying one or more sport psychologists in the area in advance can really help to streamline the process.”