- Sasha Hamdani, MD
The Emerging Field of Sports Psychiatry
Updated: Oct 7, 2019
Sports psychiatry has been a recent topic of great interest among the Psychiatry and Sports Medicine Fields. The bridging of these two worlds to focus on psychiatric issues that specifically pertain to athletes has exponentially grown and advanced over the past 3 decades. The medical literature on exercise, sport, psychiatry, mental health and mental disorders and related topics keep expounding on common recurrent themes e.g., head trauma and concussion, drug abuse and doping, performance enhancement, overtraining, ADHD or eating disorders. However, a specific interest of mine as a practitioner is the concurrent anxiety spectrum and depressive disorders that lay beneath the surface of the athlete. Supported by the growing literature, evidence-based recommendations have become available now in many clinical areas. Furthermore, sports therapy of mental disorders has been studied by more and more high-quality randomized controlled clinical trials. Optimized psychiatric prevention and treatment of athletes and ideal sport-related support for individuals with mental disorders should be a main purpose and goal.
In 1992, Daniel Begel, MD launched the subspecialty of sport psychiatry as a formal discipline with his 1992 paper published in The American Journal of Psychiatry. In 1994, Dr Begel founded the International Society for Sport Psychiatry to “facilitate scientific communication about, and understanding of, disorders of the brain and behavior associated with sport, and to advance their prevention and treatment.” Today, there is a “growing body of sport psychiatrists intent on filling a previous unmet need.”
For serious athletes, “sports is not merely a hobby,” and seeking mental health help is often stigmatized, said Dr Begel. Because relatively few athletes seek help, there is an erroneous perception of low prevalence of mental illness in athletes.