Sports and suicide

whatcoachesshouldlookforWhat coaches and athletic trainers should look for

Middle school, high school and college coaches play a unique role in watching for signs of emotional distress in student athletes. These could signal the onset of clinical depression or other mood disorder that can lead to risk for suicide if not treated.

Consider the following:

Some mental health problems can be triggered or exacerbated by pressure. Sport participation may increase this pressure for certain vulnerable student athletes.

Athletes may form an identity based on participation in sports, and disruptions to this lifestyle caused by injury or other factors may result in depression, anxiety, stress disorder or suicide.

Injured athletes experience clinically significant depression six times as often as non-injured athletes.

Athletes who achieve higher levels of success have higher levels of depression and higher suicidal ideation after injury.


What should coaches, athletic trainers, parents and teammates LOOK FOR in a student-athlete who may be at risk for suicide?

  • Changes in performance on the team
  • Withdrawal from social interaction
  • Increase in reckless behavior
  • Irritability, sensitivity to criticism
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Resistance to participating in a full shift of practice
  • Neglect of appearance, grooming, hygiene


What should coaches, athletic trainers, parents and teammates DO FOR a student-athlete who may be at risk?

“Follow your instincts. Listen with your heart as well as your ears,” says leading youth mental health expert Karen Poole in an online video, Talking to Youth About Suicide: Tips for Coaches. “If you think there’s something wrong, or you’re not sure, inquire. You need to spend some of the time listening and not just talking. Ask open-ended questions: ‘Tell me why you’re feeling like this. Tell me what’s going on.’ Ask them directly: ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide? Explore with them, ‘How bad does this pain get for you?’ Get professional help to put a plan for safety in place. Speak to family and friends to keep this teen safe.”

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