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Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst in action against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL football game on Oct. 20 in Seattle.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst in action against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL football game on Oct. 20 in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

As a physician who specializes in sport psychiatry, I want to commend Ravens’ tight end Hayden Hurst for using his celebrity status to bring mental illness out of the shadows in the recent article, “‘I’m so comfortable with who I am’: Ravens’ Hayden Hurst tells his story of battling depression, anxiety" (Nov. 8). His honesty in describing his battles with anxiety and depression was every bit as brave as staring down a 300-pound opponent on the football field. By candidly and publicly describing his struggles, he chips away at the stigma that leaves other athletes reluctant to reach out and seek help.

Athletes at all levels, gifted as they may be — from the pros down to your child’s Little League — are representative of the general population and may be at risk for mental illness. Team peer pressure, the stress of meeting the intense expectations of parents and coaches, the allure of scholarships and a hyper-structured schedule with little time for rest and reflection leave athletes depleted. Left unmitigated, these conditions put athletes at a higher risk for stress which makes them more likely to consider substance use and experience negative mental health results such as depression, anxiety and in some cases, suicide.

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As we bring attention to these issues, it’s important that athletes are provided access to professional resources to help address concerns at an early stage. Early detection of mental illness is important and when paired with appropriate treatment can help reduce the negative impact on an athlete’s life. With timely professional interventions, athletes are likely to have successful outcomes not only in sports but also in other aspects of their life.

May we all follow Hayden’s example and continue to work hard to help athletes regain the thrill of competition and appreciate sports for what it should be: a stress-reliever and source of great joy!

Dr. Deepak Prabhakar, Towson

The writer is head of sports psychiatry and medical director of outpatient services for Sheppard Pratt Health System.

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