The the Winter Sports and athletic communities at large are reeling today with the news of the sudden passing of US Olympic Aerials star Jeret "Speedy" Peterson. The news of his suicide spread across blogs and news channels this morning and described the Olympic medalist as a talented but often disturbed character, who often found solace in sport, however ultimately succumbed to personal struggles yesterday.
Peterson allegedly committed suicide just days after an arrest for an alcohol-related violation, according to CNN.com's post. Peterson reportedly struggled with traumatic life events, depression, and substance use issues. Too often, issues of this nature in athletes are either minimized or overlooked, largely due to the socialization of athletes to be "tough", "shake things off", or "just deal with it".
Sometimes, however, we need to be open and aware that athletes are not immune to mental health and personal struggles. Knowing this fact and how and where to get help are the first steps. Below are some key behaviors to watch for in athletes who may be in need of some assistance:
- Sudden changes in mood or reactivity, for example-a generally even-tempered athlete begins to become confrontational.
- Changes in appetitite or sleep patterns.
- Unexplained performance declines or missed practices.
- Social withdrawl or isolation.
- Substance abuse or misuse.
- Loss of motivation or interest in sport or other activites.
These are just some indicators for fellow athletes, coaches, and family members to be aware of. If these persist for two weeks or greater, a consultation with a qualified sports or clinical professional may be encouraged to assist the athlete in working through their difficulties.
In short, athletics doesn't exist in a vacuum and in my practice I believe that the whole athlete needs to be emphasized for lifelong well-being. Jeret Peterson will not soon be forgotten and the athletic and condolences go out to his family, teammates, and the rest of the Olympic community.