A Major League Baseball team is dependent on an individual’s performance, therefore adding pressure to every player that steps up to pitch or bat. “The pitcher stands alone on the rubber. The hitter stands alone in the box. You’re all alone,” states Dr. Ken Ravizza in USA Today. In this way, everyday folks can relate to MLB players and the enormous pressure that stands in the way of their mental health.
In the past, pitcher Roberto Osuna has disclosed he was battling anxiety after missing consecutive games. Osuna does not believe his pitching mechanics are at fault, as reported by ESPN: “This has nothing to do with me being on the field. I feel great out there. It’s just when I’m out of baseball, when I’m not on the field, that I feel just weird and a little bit lost.”
Although Osuna believes his anxiety is not tied to the game, it has affected the hard-throwing right-hander’s performance and overall mental health. To address his anxiety, Osuna worked with Paddy Steinford, the Blue Jays’ mental performance coach to understand his notion of feeling “weird and a little bit lost.”
There are two main types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and situational anxiety disorders (like social anxiety). What differentiates the two is that one occurs all the time, and the other is triggered by certain feelings or perceived threats.
Anxiety is common in the US and the MLB
“Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older,” according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
However, it is difficult for men to openly disclose their mental health, as we see in baseball: in a male-dominated sport where hypermasculinity is very prominent. Emotional self-control is expected as men are to maintain emotional composure at all times.
In spite of that, in the last three decades, more players’ mental health struggles have been acknowledged, as more names have been placed on the disabled list (DL). Previously, a typical disabled list consisted only of physical injuries.
Social anxiety and performance anxiety
Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo was another player placed on the disabled list due to an anxiety disorder. As he began his 2011 season, he was a promising star on the rise after making All-Stars the previous year. But he seemed to struggle locating pitches, which is typically associated with performance anxiety disorder.
People with social anxiety disorder have a harder time in social settings whether it be meeting new people, performing in front of others or being observed. “The person is afraid that he or she will be humiliated, judged, and rejected,” according to National Institute of Mental Health.
Often times as a person tries to contain their anxiety but then are affected by depression. “Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder,” according to National Institute of Mental Health.
Baltimore Orioles’ relief pitcher Justin Duchscherer was placed on the DL after admitting he was dealing with depression. Although managing personal affairs, Duchscherer appeared to be pitching well and rehabilitating from an elbow surgery.
However, Duchscherer eventually told reporters, “I felt like a total failure. I felt like, ‘I can’t stay healthy enough to perform, so I’m not doing my job, and I failed at my marriage.’ I started to get into a lot of negative thought patterns.” Duchscherer eventually underwent treatment for clinical depression. He was determined to understand the root of his problem. “If someone says, ‘He’s weak’ or ‘He’s soft,’ that’s not my problem. It’s on them,” said Duchscherer.
The criticism will come, but you don’t have to value it
A recent strategy that Bob Tewksbury, former MLB pitcher and current mental skills coach, tried to instill in his players is to refrain from social media. Tewksbury states to USA Today, “Because they have the constant access with people that criticize them. If they choose to focus on the criticism, it doesn’t put you in a good place. You have to eliminate those distractions, get rid of that negativity.” The public scrutiny is not ideal for anyone’s wellbeing. He suggests that players not read too much into social media comments.
Yogi Berra, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, said “Baseball is 90% mental.” The mental state of a person not only affects his career but his loved ones and overall health. It is influential that the MLB organization is looking after its players’ mental health.