Post-traumatic stress disorder among athletes

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Post-traumatic stress disorder among athletes
Post-traumatic stress disorder world map - DALY - WHO2002.svg
World map representing the presence of Post traumatic stress disorder within different countries

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a cognitive disorder, which may occur after experiencing a traumatic event.[1] It is a psychiatric disorder, which may occur across athletes at all levels of sport participation.[2]

There is a common sense of confusion between the difference of PTSD and a normal response to trauma. If an athlete injures himself or herself in a horrific way, it is normal for them to go through some adversity before overcoming the injury.[3] They may develop small flashbacks, have bad dreams, or feel like they can't get the traumatic experience out of their mind.[2] [1]There are many therapies which can help treat PTSD, including psychotherapy, art therapy or social engagement etc.[3]

- The athlete could also suffer from Chronic traumatic encephalopathy too much head trauma from practice and the games just like Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher who killed himself and girlfriend on December 1, 2012


Athletes may sometimes hide the severity of an injury in order to continue participating in their sport.[4][5] This denial of the severity of an injury could lead to an early retirement in order for the athlete to refrain from sustaining permanent physical damage. Retirement at an earlier time than expected could lead an athlete to experience feelings such as alienation, distress or uselessness.[6] The degree to which an athlete identifies with their sport may have an impact on their emotional response to a traumatic injury. [5] Individuals who identify strongly as athletes may be at increased risk for psychopathology such as depression or PTSD after sustaining an injury.[5]

Tiaina Baul "Junior" Seau Jr[edit]

Junior Seau with his fellow Patriots

An example of an athlete who experienced this is Tiaina Baul "Junior" Seau Jr.[6] Junior Seau was an American NFL player, and is a typical example[citation needed] of an individual with PTSD. He was born on January 19, 1969 and died on May 2, 2012. Seau was a very beneficial asset to the teams that he played for; throughout his career he played for San Diego Chargers from 1990 to 2002, Miami Dolphins from 2003–2005 and New England Patriots from 2006–2009.[7] He played linebacker for all three teams and had extensive experience in this role, despite many injuries throughout his career.[8] After his career at the NFL he developed differences in his personality, due to brain injury; these changes consisted of impaired self-control and regulation, sensitive emotionally and also he was not able to socialise as he once was able to, which then led to alienation, something which was a strong opposite to his original personality. From there he developed insomnia and committed suicide via a self-inflicted gunshot to his heart.[8]



There are several ways to treat PTSD, including various psychotherapies. Bisson, Jonathan I.; Ehlers, Anke; Matthews, Rosa; Pilling, Stephen; Richards, David; Turner, Stuart (2007-02-01). "Psychological treatments for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder". The British Journal of Psychiatry. 190 (2): 97–104. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.106.021402. ISSN 0007-1250. PMID 17267924.</ref> There is also the option of art therapy, this was created by a man called Adrian Hill, in 1942 and is one of the earliest forms of treatment. This treatment is very beneficial to those with an open mind, it involves individuals to speak to a psychologist specialising in art, and the two both either paint, sculpt or any other forms of art. Another form of treatment, is treatment through medications; these medications aim to enhance their moments of happiness and reduce their moments of stress and anxiety.[9] Some of these medications include fluoxetine, paroxetine, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines and glucocorticoids. Obviously resulting to medications is a last resort, but unfortunately this type of therapy can be the matter of rehabilitating someone, meaning that the don’t have to live with these PTSD symptoms for the remainder of their life which is not a preferred way of life.[10]


There are many sports which are fairly dangerous and involve threatening activities, especially during competition. There is always the chance of athletes getting injured while competing or during training which is exactly the reason why a psychologist would eventually encounter a patient who is a serious athlete and is in need of their assistance to rehabilitate their PTSD.[11] Psychology as a general occupation has dated back to times of 1878, and around 1897 the first psychologist specialising in sport was established, by the name of Dr. Norman Triplett. Ever since, sport psychologists were helping different athletes, in the mental aspect of their game, in order for them to reach their optimum potential.[11]

PTSD became first evident due to those individuals who suffered extremely horrible experiences from war. Society noticed that those who took part in war, or had family members who took part in war, became distant from themselves and suffered terribly and found it very difficult to cope with the tragedies. Researchers took note of this and aimed to evaluate the situation and come to a conclusion with how to rehabilitate these victims, and while doing this they determined that these people had post-traumatic stress disorder.[12]

Soon after this new found disorder was established it made it far more clearer for those sport psychologists to treat their clients, as prior to the discovery of PTSD, sports psychologists, had to come up with alternative options to rehabilitate their clients who were experiencing PTSD. These psychologists often took their clients to play different sports, completely different from their own in aim to treat them in the most comfortable way possible.[11]


  1. ^ a b Delahanty, Douglas L. (2011-01-01). "Toward the Predeployment Detection of Risk for PTSD". American Journal of Psychiatry. 168 (1): 9–11. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10101519. ISSN 0002-953X. PMID 21205813.
  2. ^ a b "Bullying, psychiatric pathology and suicidal behavior : International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health". Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  3. ^ a b Koenen, Karestan C.; Moffitt, Terrie E.; Poulton, Richie; Martin, Judith; Caspi, Avshalom (2007-02-01). "Early childhood factors associated with the development of post-traumatic stress disorder: results from a longitudinal birth cohort". Psychological Medicine. 37 (2): 181–192. doi:10.1017/S0033291706009019. ISSN 1469-8978. PMC 2254221. PMID 17052377.
  4. ^ "Sport psychology support to an athlete undergoing treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A case study". ResearchGate. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  5. ^ a b c "Playing through the pain: Psychiatric risks among athletes". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  6. ^ a b "Mental health following traumatic physical injury: An integrative literature review - Injury". Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  7. ^ OTL: Mind Control -- Study of Junior Seau's Brain, retrieved 2015-09-04
  8. ^ a b "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Suicide, Personality Alterations, and Dementia in Athletes: A Call for Change and Reform". Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  9. ^ "WHAT IS ART THERAPY?". Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  10. ^ Bisson, Jonathan I.; Ehlers, Anke; Matthews, Rosa; Pilling, Stephen; Richards, David; Turner, Stuart (2007-02-01). "Psychological treatments for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder". The British Journal of Psychiatry. 190 (2): 97–104. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.106.021402. ISSN 0007-1250. PMID 17267924.
  11. ^ a b c Norman Triplett and the Birth of Sport Psychology, retrieved 2015-09-04
  12. ^ "When trauma tips you over: PTSD Part 1". Radio National. Retrieved 2015-09-04.