Athletes and mental health sufferers unite!

I was listening in the car this morning to a radio interview with a sports psychologist. He was discussing the case of an internationally competitive skier who had suffered extensive head trauma. The psychologist mentioned that after major accidents like these there is often Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as the actual physical trauma.

The sports psychologist treats his athletes using visualizations and other psychological techniques. It occurred to me while he was talking that with professional athletes, the focus is always on getting them back to their former level of fitness and ability to compete. It seems to be universally expected. Athletes are considered society’s “winners.” All kinds of “right thinking” behavior is credited to them, from being exceptionally focused and mature, to being “intrinsically better” than the next guy, who is roundly criticized for quitting athletics early despite obvious talent.

You probably can tell that I have limited tolerance for putting jocks on Mount Olympus. What irks me is that positive expectations are lavished on jocks and the same cannot be said for those suffering from mental illness. Where are the sports psychologists for our relatives? Our relatives, too, have to get back in the game.

The radio interview discussed the long term prognosis for returning to the sport for the worst kinds of injuries, and the psychologist said that it can be done. He made it sound like it wasn’t even such a big deal. In several cases he cited, athletes even managed to surpass their previous records. The psychologist mentioned that PTSD and subsequent recovery can be delayed by people around the athlete, who, in their worried state, actually make the athlete doubt his ability to get back in the game. (That would be the high expressed emotion that I have referred to elsewhere on this blog.)

The sports psychologist discussed the importance of allowing time to heal, and not rushing back too soon because, thinking you are well before you actually are is not a good strategy. I have heard that, too, from psychiatrists, but the difference is that they were coming from a place of pessimism, not positivism. They believe schizophrenia is chronic and, of course, the medications treat everybody as if they were chronic.

So, the psychiatric patient is not getting the kind of treatment that star athletes get. The typical psychiatric patient gets lowered expectations, no hope of full recovery and ability to surpass the previous self. Nobody clues in the family that being worried hinders the individual’s recovery.

What’s so special about athletes that we can’t apply the same treatment to those suffering from mental health problems?

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12 thoughts on “Athletes and mental health sufferers unite!”

  1. Which is so special is that we’re talking a kind of trauma that is “safe” for everybody to recognize and talk about. The label of “schizophrenia” usually hits people whose trauma is not “safe”. So, the message that comes along with it is “Don’t”…recognize and talk about it. And when the trauma doesn’t exist it can’t be resolved, and what you get is a chronic illness that can only be managed, but not cured.

  2. Marian – You are absolutely right. The “treatment” that mental health patients get compared to what a top athlete can get is patronizing in its low expectations. The real stigma is low expectations. But that’s what doctors and organizations (like NAMI) provide.

  3. Rossa, yes. And the maybe saddest thing here is that the “In several cases (…), athletes even managed to surpass their previous records” outcome also can be observed when people labelled with “sz” are helped to overcome their trauma, instead of having it suppressed. Take for instance, the higher employment rate of labelled people compared to the employment rate of the population in general in Western Lapland (Open Dialog). Personally, I’m often struck by the insight labelled people who’ve overcome their trauma have. I rarely see that amount of insight in the average, “normal” person. (But insight, of course, is something that can’t be measured like employment rates can.) At the same time it seems to me that true insight, which goes beyond the one an athlete mostly will gain from working through the psychological trauma caused by a sports accident, isn’t valued in our culture, as it often will question the very foundations of this culture. So, the “Don’t” becomes relevant again. This time on another level. The “treatment” of crises with consciousness-reducing, and thus true insight preventing, drugs, and utterly hopeless and victimizing messages about chronic disease, life-long impairment, and the like, and not least the practice of asking/forcing people to have “insight” (into the fact that they are victims, and never can be anything else), is one huge “Don’t”. And it is absolutely mind-boggling to witness all this talk about empowerment and recovery, self-determination, inclusion into the decision-making when it comes to “treatment”, and bla bla bla, while no one seems to notice that these phrases have been completely emptied of their original meaning, and have been turned into a “Don’t” themselves (recovery for instance now meaning to learn to live with a “mental illness”, a chronic brain disease), the moment they were adopted by the system.

    BTW, the violence Derrick Jensen talks about in the vid is a quite obvious violence. It doesn’t need to be this kind of obvious violence. Questioning another person’s experience of themselves and the world, their thoughts, their feelings, their perceptions, and imposing on them one’s own perception of them (“No, you are not traumatized, you are mentally ill.” “No, I don’t say you’re oversensitive, naive, gullible, …, I don’t criticize your friends, your cloths, your hair-do, your interests, your every choice you make, your every opinion you have to hurt you. If you think/feel that, you’re wrong, and it shows that you can’t trust your own thoughts/feelings (sic). It’s all for your own good. If I don’t do it, you’ll end up a complete failure.” — “You make me do this to you.” The ultimate disarmament.), is an act of violence, although most people believe it to be help. Why they can’t be blamed, as in accused, why they only can be asked to take responsibility.

  4. I agree to some extent with Duane. There are real medical problems that cause psychiatric symptoms, and people should be tested for these problems, and receive the appropriate medical treatment if they test positive.

    Anyhow, I think that it wouldn’t be quite as difficult as it is (and sometimes it seems to me an almost impossible task) to convince both the general population and the medical profession that another approach is needed, if “mental illness” always was caused by medical, though not psychiatric, problems. A shift from one medical paradigm to another isn’t quite as frightening as a shift from a (pseudo-)medical to a psycho-sociological one.

  5. Marian,

    “Pseudo-medical”… You got that right!

    I don’t have all the answers… I’ve come to believe that trauma can be at the root of a vast number of these “mental illnesses”… but I believe that a significant number of people have problems related to blood sugar, thyroid, environmental toxins, etc….

    It just seems to be common sense… rule out physical conditions, and/or treat physical conditions first, before making the assumption that something is “mental”… and if it is mental… treat it with the things that work to help heal…..

    It ain’t rocket science…

    Duane

  6. Marian,

    The shift from the current medical paradigm to one that actually addressed physical conditions would save money, I’m convinced.

    Psychiatric drugs are enormously expensive… Some of the individual states here in the U.S. are spending more than half of their state budgets on Medicaid, and a large portion of those expenditures are on psychotropics (hence all the lawsuits by the states against Pharma, to recapture their financial losses).

    The states would save money, and people (children especially) would be given an opportunity to have real physical evaluations, to determine what might need to be addressed to improve their overall health and functioning.

    It just makes sense, but of course, there is so much politics in all of this… Lots of money from lobbyists, etc.

    I’ve heard from therapists and counselors who believe that physical conditions manifest after trauma… Even if this is the case in the majority, the physical conditions can still lead to symptoms that make it hard to function, especially work in the community.

    Also, I believe that some people simply have blood sugar problems, hormonal imbalances, thyroid conditions, deficiencies in specific nutrients… and that once these things are addressed, counseling, building better relationships, etc can follow.

    I think it takes believing in people enough to come to realize that real medicine (versus psychiatry with drugs) would help many people reach a higher level of functioning, and become healthier, happier, and more successful in life… Including being able to work, making a living… building a life.

    Those are just my thoughts.

    My best,

    Duane

  7. Duane, I think, we basically agree. I just happen to focus a bit more on the psycho-social stuff, because I’m a trauma survivor myself.

    I have no doubt that psychological trauma also finds an expression in physical conditions. A lot of physical tension left my body simultaneously to me resolving past trauma. I can’t describe the relief, but also surprise, I felt several years ago when I, seemingly suddenly one day, but of course as the very logic result of having come to a major insight about my past, was able to breathe deeply and freely without effort, for the first time in my (conscious) life. I’d never thought of the enormous tension in my body, that very much included my breathing, as anything else but “normal” (in the sense of “natural”). And it probably is “normal” for someone who is in a suffocating relationship. While it is everything else but natural for a human being to breathe that superficially. It might have helped to just learn some breathing techniques, do yoga, or something. But the problem is that when it’s psychological trauma that is at the root, it can overwhelm you when you remove bodily blocks, practising yoga and the like, before you’re ready to face your trauma. I tried yoga twice during acute crisis (and only because I’m such a bloody-minded pain in the behind, who doesn’t accept anyone to tell her what she can and can’t do, and because I had no experience with yoga from before, and thought of it as just a little physical exercise: that certainly can’t hurt, can it?; my therapist had warned me, and said I should wait). Both times I went completely mad immediately afterwards, and it was my luck that I live right upstairs the location where the yoga class took place.

    The tension also has resulted in arthritis, and I’ve seen it often mentioned that arthritis is more common in people labelled with “sz”. — The “experts” of course conclude that there maybe is a genetic connection, that the same genetical defects are responsible for both “sz” and arthritis. — I could have popped pills for the pain, treated the arthritis, isolated. But that would have been just as much “symptom management”, as popping psych drugs is. I can’t reverse the physical damage that’s done, and any tension means joint pain. But since a lot of the trauma that caused the tension got resolved, I’m most of the time pain-free today, and don’t need to “manage” anything. So working through one’s trauma seems to me a more sustainable way to address also physical health problems, that very well may be caused by psychological trauma, than to just treat these isolated and medically.

  8. Marian,

    What you say makes perfect sense. I’ve heard what you expressed from other trauma survivors as well.

    Interestingly, I had a college professor who thought almost all “illness” had emotional trauma at its root. This is something Dr. Mercola talks about as well… How deeply connected the mind/body are….

    Consistent… You’re always consistent… and honest.

    And I find it pretty refreshing that another person is out there who is not afraid to tell it like it is when it comes to conventional psychiatry!

    Thanks!

    Duane Sherry

  9. Marian,

    A good supplement blend for arthritis is Formula 747 Joint Supplement (you can find it a various places online… not to be confused with 747 Horse Supplement).

    I’ve told a lot of people about it, and seen it help plenty of my friends, family, etc. It has glucosamine, chondroiton, MSM, and turmeric. The first three ingredients help build the joint. Turmeric is an herb – the yellow in mustard… It helps with inflammation.

    You mentioned yoga, etc… I found this to be one of the best breathing exercises I’ve ever found –

    http://www.youtube.com/user/mercola#p/search/2/MwlCk9XTz_U

    You said some insightful things about how past trauma effects your body. I hope you understand that I heard what you said.

    I send this information in hopes that it might help you or someone else. I apologize if I’ve moved right back into the “physical”… sometimes, I can’t help myself.

    My best,

    Duane

  10. Marian,

    You explained that working on issue of trauma was the key to your healing, and how you didn’t need to “manage” anything.

    And then I put up information on an arthritis (joint supplement).

    I feel like I owe you an apology for not really listening to what it was you were saying.

    And so I’d like to say I’m sorry.

    Duane

  11. Duane, that’s ok. It only shows how committed you are to finding natural healing resources. Maybe someone else, who reads this, can benefit from your recommendation.

    Several years ago, I tried glucosamine (though only glucosamine, not the combination), for about half a year or so. It helped a little, but unfortunately also sent my blood pressure up into a not so healthy range, which is what glucosamine may do in some people, so I quit taking it. — Something to be aware of, that natural remedies, too, can have side effects.

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