“A lot of athletes I work with, are high-functioning, driven, committed individuals and perfectionism is usually off the charts,” Nickols said.

Specific mental health challenges for athletes often accompany this disposition. Nickols says that in a culture where athletic stats are broadcast online and subject to ridicule, an athlete’s identity is often wrapped up in their sport.

High profile athletes including Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Michael Phelps have opened up about their struggles, helping to partly de-stigmatize mental health issues in sports, but Nickols says progress for providing resources has been slow, especially for programs not flush with funding.

“Unfortunately, in my experience, the mental health support is woefully inadequate,” he said.

He says certain environments can become destructive to an athlete’s mental health, particularly when there is pressure to win and perform at a high level.

“I think that toxic environments in sport, or on a team are sometimes normalized and the culture within a sport or team is really important. I believe that starts top down,” he said.

Read more


Trying to find a counselor who understands the unique mental, physical, and emotional needs of an athlete? The sport psychologists at Mind Body Endurance can help.