Mental Health in Ladies' Skating

SkateFanBerlin

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In addition to Lypnitskaya and Gold others this week have come forward. Wagner had a small piece on an NBCSports. Now mental fitness is affecting Gabby. What's going on? Or is this a normal ebb and flow?

Is competing against teens doing quads and 3A's creating a sense of hopelessness. Even the full-grown girls at the Russian test skates seemed a little lost.
 

screech

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One thing is that although there is still a big stigma with regards to mental health, as a whole people feel more comfortable speaking about their struggles compared to a few years ago. Guaranteed this has been an issue in the sport for decades, but skaters couldn't speak about it. As for why this week, a possibility is because October 10 is World Mental Health Day (and in Gabby's case, the need to announce her WD from Skate Canada).

With regards to Gabby, she had a difficult year last year. Her (for lack of a better term) meltdown at the Olympics, and then struggles at Worlds, were likely contributing factors, since she went in as a potential medallist. She had a ruptured cyst after the 16/17 season, surgery forcing her to leave that year's SOI, further health issues, and the 'normal' love and life issues that many young adults go through, and it's not surprising she'd struggle. And to top it all off, there's a huge amount of pressure on her this year as Canada's only real hope in ladies skating. I'm not a psychologist, but I think all that is more than most people can take on while maintaining top mental health.

And in general, even if she didn't have all of those factors, a person can have what seems like a perfect life, but still be struggling with mental health. So often people are told things like "you've got a great job and a great family! What do you have to be depressed/anxious about?"

As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, I wish all of these ladies (and men!) all the time, space, and resources they need.
 

synchrogirl17

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I agree that it is becoming less taboo to talk about mental health issues, and therefore they appear more common today.

It is often even harder for men to talk about their mental health, so I wouldn't be surprised if a lot more skaters also struggle secretly.

In addition, those teenage/young adult years can be really tough even without skating at an elite level. Many girls already have eating disorders and other issues without being weighed or having their weight commented on by coaches, judges and spectators.

I was hospitalised for depression in 2017 and I believe this saved my life. I hope that all skaters (and all people) can take time to address these topics and get help if needed.
 

coppertop1

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I don't think the Russian Career Tributes have much to do with it. Athletes are always under pressure. The ladies also face scrutiny for their bodies, people love to comment them being heavy, needing to lose weight, etc. That's bound to affect them.

It's better that Gabby takes time off now than ignore it. We saw how it affected Gracie Gold.
 

aftershocks

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Cross-posting from U.S. ladies thread:

Tinami Amori said:
Debbie Thomas' issues came up much later in life.

That's spelled Debi Thomas. We don't know timing of the onset or the specific genesis of Debi's mental problems. She was under a tremendous amount of stress in the lead-up to the 1988 Olympics, which could be seen on her face and in her interviews during that time. She had suffered an injury the year before (1987) as I recall, which contributed to her losing her U.S. National title to Jill Trenary and her World title to Katarina Witt. I personally believe Debi was struggling with pressure in the lead-up to the '88 Olympics. IMO, she never actually recovered from what she seemed under the surface to feel was letting herself down, as well as letting down her coach and her country with her uncharacteristic fp performance. Debi's mother's reaction, and her coach's reaction to her not winning/ not performing to her abilities likely also added to her emotional distress.

IMO, Debi tried to put on a brave face at the time and for years afterward in interviews. But to me it was always clear that she was struggling emotionally with her Olympics letdown and the hectic aftermath of touring with SOI and trying to finish medical school. Post-Olympics, she put on a good front via still competing and winning professional competitions, and performing in shows. However, some of her behavior on tour seemed erratic as recalled by a few SOI skaters years later. Debi likely had always been a high-achiever and a perfectionist who had put pressure on herself. Unfortunately, I don't think she ever stopped to seek professional counseling post-Olympics. She kept going, including rushing into getting married to her boyfriend at the time, which ended in divorce. She married an athlete some years later and had a son. She graduated from Stanford and worked as a physician, but she eventually hit a wall and everything fell apart/ came unglued...

Debi Thomas has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic Depression). She joins a long list of high achievers who struggled with Bipolar Disorder including...Robert Schumann, Composer, Virginia Woolf, Author, Kanye West, Entertainer, Mariah Carey, Entertainer, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, Marilyn Monroe, Actress, Vivian Leigh, Actress, Jane Pauley, Journalist, Franz Schubert, Composer, Sting, Entertainer, Gustav Mahler, Composer, Frank Sinatra, Entertainer, Carrie Fisher, Actress/Author, Amy Winehouse, Entertainer, Ernest Hemingway, Author, Margaux Hemingway, Actress, Brittney Spears, Entertainer, Nina Simone, Entertainer, Glenn Gould, Pianist, Elizabeth Manley, Figure Skater, Vincent Van Gogh, Painter....it's a long list.

List of (famous) people (including Debi Thomas) with Bipolar Disorder:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_bipolar_disorder

Before making anymore ignorant statements about Bipolar Disorder, you can read more about it here:
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

Thanks for sharing your apparent knowledge about Debi's mental problems, whether it's been diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder or not. Since humans are individuals, I'm going to take an 'ignorant' guess that not everyone whose been diagnosed, particularly those attributed with the illness years after more has been understood and researched, behaved in exactly the same way or experienced the symptoms in exactly the same way, or were able to recognize and manage their illness, much less receive or even accept any treatment, in exactly the same way.

My comments were not specifically addressing Debi's mental problems. I discussed my impressions of her emotional reactions, behavior and competitive difficulties post her 1986 World championship win and especially during the period leading up to the 1988 Olympics and the aftermath of that high stakes, high profile event.

It's not clear what you are referencing in regard to your judgmental 'ignorant comments' swipe. If you check my post more carefully, you will notice that I said: "We don't know timing of the onset or specific genesis of Debi's mental problems." There's nothing you've offered which changes that observation. And quite clearly, I made no reference to Bipolar Disorder in my previous post. I have no access to Debi's medical records. If you do, kudos.
 

aftershocks

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Cont'd:
After checking your links @layman, and doing some additional research and refamiliarizing with The Washington Post article on Debi from 2016 (which is the source of Wiki's Bipolar Disorder mention), I see nothing to change the fact that "we don't know timing of the onset or specific genesis of Debi's mental problems." And my earlier 'ignorant' guess about the unique ways individuals may experience Bipolar Disorder, is confirmed. References also indicate that misdiagnoses can occur.

In addition, it pays to keep in mind that Wiki is not considered an authoritative source. It's necessary to check cited references. The Washington Post reporter (his article is Wiki's source for the BD claim) cites a Medical Board report which indicates Debi Thomas was evaluated at a hospital in April 2012 and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Debi was told to get assistance from a 'distressed physician' program, but she couldn't afford it (the WP article explains). Subsequently, Debi lost her medical staff membership and clinical privileges for failing to comply with the order. She later contested the Bipolar Diagnosis at a hearing. She claimed the original evaluation was rushed, and she presented a separate evaluation of her mental health that diagnosed 'depression.' The separate evaluation was conducted by a physician Debi had obtained. As Debi's medical license had expired by the time of the hearing, the board decided to take no action.

I am bringing this up only in response to your post, as my original post was specifically focused on discussing my impressions of the competitive pressure and anxiety Debi was clearly experiencing in the lead-up to the 1988 Olympics. The Washington Post article quotes a Rolling Stone interview Debi gave during that period in which she said about the Olympics: "I want it to be over with... Last week I thought I was going to throw myself out the glass windows at the rink." I don't recall hearing about or reading that interview, but it's surely a red flag signalling the substantial pressure Debi was feeling and having trouble managing. Apparently, at the time no one recognized it as a warning sign of any kind. Maybe she was thought to be joking.

Again, I'm not sure what it is you disagree with in my original post. I don't think there's any question that Debi was having trouble dealing with the pressure of expectations from her coach, her mother, herself, and fans. And being seen as the 'first' African-American figure skater to win a World championship and to contend for an Olympic gold medal undoubtedly added to the tremendous pressure she was feeling. It's too bad Debi did not recognize the need to get help dealing with her thoughts and emotions.

Debi was fortunate to perform well in compulsory figures and in the sp at the '88 Olympics. But going into the fp, she admittedly had in her mind that she needed to be perfect. By telling herself she had to land the 3/3 perfectly, there was no way it was going to happen. She completely deflated after two-footing and slightly stumbling on the landing of the second jump. A 3/3 combo that she could do in her sleep. Sadly, Debi did not get help dealing with her emotions after the Olympics either. I think it's telling that even these many years later, she still seems to be in denial about how she was affected by what happened. From a February 2018 article in the New Zealand Herald, Debi is quoted:
"People who are still so focused on my skating career, I'm just like, 'Come on, that was thirty years ago. Why does it matter?' I'm not proud of how I performed in the Olympics at all ... The biggest disappointment isn't that I didn't win the gold, it's that I didn't skate my best."

So once again, it seems to me that Debi never resolved the letdown and the difficult emotions surrounding the Olympics competition. Added to that the WP article states that during her career, Debi was encouraged to alter her appearance by U.S. fed officials, which led to her getting two nose jobs and enlisting assistance from a ballet instructor in 'feminizing her aesthetic.' If indeed, Debi's Bipolar Disorder diagnosis is accurate, these difficult experiences that occurred during her competitive career surely were not helpful. Here's an article that discusses the role that traumatic events can play in developing bipolar disorder and/or depression:
http://ibpf.org/article/traumatic-events-and-mood-disorders
"Studies show that trauma can change the actual chemistry in the brain. In fact, a severe external event can bring on depression..."

Here's another article on the history of Bipolar Disorder:
https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/history-bipolar#19th-and-20th-century

As I said, my original post was concerned only with my impressions of Debi's emotional reactions and behavior surrounding the build-up to the Olympics, and its aftermath. As laypersons, we can't make any definitive judgments about the specifics of Debi's mental condition then or now. The saddest thing is that she has AFAIK decided not to get professional help. She is the one who has to make that choice.

It's important to realize that doctors and researchers are still in the process of learning about the brain and mental disorders. At this point, we can be thankful that more awareness has been raised regarding the prevalence and impact of depression and mental health issues among all population groups. I'm glad that the sport of figure skating is beginning to recognize the serious impact of the mental stresses many athletes experience, and that this problem needs to be addressed with more openness and sensitivity.
 
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ZilphaK

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I think this is a matter of more people being willing to be open about mental illness and the toll that elite sports takes on athletes.

In general, however, I do think competitive figure skating is a brutal sport. In a team sport, you have your teammates through thick and thin (in best cases); in figure skating, your team is your coach and your parents; it's an intense "helicoptering" from adults and separation from peers at just the time when most kids (tweens/teens) are sort of programmed to start becoming "un-enmeshed" from their parents.

For anyone who wants to make a real run medaling even at Regionals, you assume there are 15-20 hours a week spent on ice, in gyms. Yes, there can be camaraderie among skaters, but ultimately, these other kids are your competition, and it not only takes a child with a sort of "positive philosophical" attitude when it comes to "have fun and make friends whether you win or lose," but it takes the parents and coaches stressing that as well. That can be tough when parents are draining bank accounts for "just have fun." I'm guessing that even when parents are saying "just have fun" there is a lot of unspoken awareness if not pressure that fun is coming at a hefty price.

And are there "mean girls" and "meaner parents" at the rink? There certainly are, and when coaches are turning a blind eye or, worse, encouraging, that's another huge stress on kids in a sport where there is usually no local governing body willing to take on parents and coaches who are OK with a little "soft bullying."

And then there are the kids who further separate from peers by leaving public school. I think homeschooling is great in a lot of ways, but most of the "best practices" commentary on homeschooling kids seem to also stress lots of other engagement with peers -- clubs, team sports, summer jobs (and not slinging hot dogs at the rink cafe). Those extras are the first thing to go for many elite skaters; birthday parties and sleepovers are gone, even family vacations take a sideline to travel for competitions.

This is a very tough sport and in many ways counter-intuitive to raising socially, emotionally and even physically healthy kids. And one of the reasons I wish US Figure Skating would put together guidelines for parents regarding "what skills by what age" to give parents a more realistic view -- and not one just based on coach's say so -- of whether or not their child should be giving up his or her childhood for a very slim shot at medals at Nationals or beyond.

I also think they need to start talking more openly about "when it's OK to quit competing and what that looks like" with information directed toward both kids and parents. My daughter wasn't even a very high level skater and her decision to stop competing was fraught with doubts and anxiety and a lot of "Who am I now?" I'm guessing that loss of identity as a competitive skater -- especially for kids who had parents and coaches who did push hard and who did allow or even encourage kids to build only that identity -- can become a psychological abyss that could take years to recover from.
 

Amantide

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I remember when I was suffering from depression. During the worse period I was struggling with stress, people would say, "You look great". Lmao
That's just because on the outside, I didn't let myself down, so to speak.

I don't know what they were expecting to see really. Going out with my hair not washed for month, and wearing pyjamas? :confused:

Very few people knew (2 close friends) I was struggling, because I usually never talk about my problems. Not because I felt shame or any such thing. It just feels like tiresome talking about it and you think, "what's the point anyway"? Like you only add more stress to yourself and annoy the others.

I mean, how many people actually really care, when they ask, "How are you?"
Sometimes I used to answer, "Very bad". Just to mess with them, cause the reaction was priceless.:rofl:

Anyway, this is not a "new" thing. I agree with @screech
Although obviously, the more competition you have (in an athlete case) and the harder it becomes, the more pressure you have. Therefore, chances are that your anxiety and stress increases.

It doesn't even have to be a full depression (for lack of better word) really.
Stress is suffice, and it's nasty. The source of many bad things, weight being one of them, for example.
 
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Perky Shae Lynn

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Oksana Baiul has never spoken (as far as I know) about her mental health. But I thought she had some serious struggles in this area for many years. I hope things have improved for her.
 

Aussie Willy

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I am not surprised that skaters, including both men and ladies, suffer mental health issues. There is an enormous amount of pressure on many athletes, not just skating. You just have to read the comments on this forum about how people talk about skaters. Similar comments would more than likely also being said to skaters directly.

It would have gone on in the past, but I don't think we could underestimate the role that social media would also play in today's environment. Not to mention journalists like Phil Hersh who one days builds a skater up and then the next tears them down on the back of a bad performance.

I also think that depending on the various federations too and the profile they have. The US bangs on about those three spots at worlds all the time. That must put skaters under an enormous amount of pressure. Canada too kind of does the same thing. I say this as coming from a country that is smaller in terms of participation and profile internationally. So while I do see skaters here at various levels deal with their own set of pressures, it is nothing when you have major exposure, sponsorship deals and federations hungry for medals.
 
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ZilphaK

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It's not isolated to just female skaters, but to men as well. A lot of people, including those intricately involved in the sport (coaches, judges, officials, etc.), do not realize just how difficult of a sport it is - physically and mentally.
Boys in the sport might encounter a bullying, as well. So many "concerns" from family and friends about "turning gay." :rolleyes: My figure skater son gets around it by also playing hockey. That's the "OK" way for boys to be on the ice, evidently.
 

aftershocks

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It's not isolated to just female skaters, but to men as well. A lot of people, including those intricately involved in the sport (coaches, judges, officials, etc.), do not realize just how difficult of a sport it is - physically and mentally.

Recognition is one thing. Being able to risk going against status quo thinking to do something about it or to at least speak out on behalf of skaters to advocate for them is another thing entirely.

Oh sorry, I misread your post. I see you are saying many don't recognize how difficult the sport is and the resultant emotional pressures skaters face. Actually, I think coaches and some officials do recognize the difficulties, but don't fully acknowlege such issues. Plus, there isn't a lot of attention ever being paid to thinking about doing more to explore and research ways to beneficially assist skaters in all aspects of how the sport is run. The ISU is more invested in protecting and benefiting the judges, IMO.
 
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screech

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I got a lot of "you have so much to be happy about, just focus on that".

That's not how it works.
I've gotten 'go outside and get some fresh air,' as a response to my symptoms.

So many skaters are now using sports psychologists to help with the mental aspect of competition, that I wouldn't be surprised if this is helping them to understand their mental health better and helping them to recognize issues when they're there. Which could be contributing to why we're hearing about so many cases now.
 

Aussie Willy

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It's not isolated to just female skaters, but to men as well. A lot of people, including those intricately involved in the sport (coaches, judges, officials, etc.), do not realize just how difficult of a sport it is - physically and mentally.
Most of those involved in the sport do actually understand how difficult it is. That is why they are involved and appreciate what the skaters do. Many coaches have been competitors themselves so they understand what it takes to get to the higher levels. Same goes for officials and judges.
 

aftershocks

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Same goes for officials and judges.

Nope, not all ISU officials, some of whom come from speed skating. And not all ISU judges either. I agree that many judges are aware of the difficulties and complexities of the sport and understand the importance of good judging, but they are hamstrung by the politics, the complicated system and constant changes to the scoring and to the rules. This is of course not unlike the skaters who are also trying to adjust to chaos within and without. And so it goes... The confusion and controversies are nothing new for the sport of figure skating.
 

skatingguy

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Nope, not all ISU officials, some of whom come from speed skating. And not all ISU judges either. I agree that many judges are aware of the difficulties and complexities of the sport and understand the importance of good judging, but they are hamstrung by the politics, the complicated system and constant changes to the scoring and to the rules. This is of course not unlike the skaters who are also trying to adjust to chaos within and without. And so it goes... The confusion and controversies are nothing new for the sport of figure skating.
I don't know what officials coming from Speed Skating has to do with understanding the pressures that athletes face while competing, because athletes in Speed Skating also face those issues. None of the rest of that has anything to do with the ability of athletes to cope with the pressures of competition, nor does it address how athletes address their mental health.
 

Garden Kitty

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aftershocks

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I don't know what officials coming from Speed Skating has to do with understanding the pressures that athletes face while competing, because athletes in Speed Skating also face those issues. None of the rest of that has anything to do with the ability of athletes to cope with the pressures of competition, nor does it address how athletes address their mental health.

There was some thread drift, to which I responded. And in response to your query, speed skating is a completely different sport from figure skating, but yet they are governed by the same governing body and share revenue. Figure skating is a uniquely different sport that combines artistry with athleticism and musical performance. It's sport and theater, with body image issues that aren't exactly the same as in speed skating. Obviously, speed skating is more focused on technique, and working with ice surface, equipment, fitness, and advances in athletic wear materials to help increase speed. Speed skaters have to execute their skills carefully and surely are concerned about proper weight, training issues, and a whole host of other worries related to their sport's demands. There is no need for direct comparisons. The sports are just simply different but are governed under the same umbrella to the detriment of figure skating, IMHO. Figure skaters uniquely have to worry about artistic performance combined with technical skill, music selection, choreo, program layout, and costumes, in addition to coaching concerns, constant rules changes, fs politics concerns, body image issues and managing competition nerves.

I'm sure there are numerous training issues, diet and lifestyle issues, and off-ice issues that can affect speed skaters' mental health, as surely athletes in every sport face psychological challenges in different ways for various reasons. My point is that a number of speed skaters, most particularly Cinquanta who ruled figure skating for decades, do not have a great handle on what makes figure skating tick. And their powerful political/ authoritarian control over figure skating has NOT benefited the sport of figure skating in many ways, including not recognizing and understanding the mental health needs of figure skating athletes. That's my opinion. You do not have to agree.
 
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kwanfan1818

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Football players are starting to talk about mental health issues publicly. Michael Bennett wrote in his relatively new book about how hard it is to face a game knowing that going out could contribute to a long-term brain injury.

NBA player Larry Saunders has left with $21m left on his contract because of depression and anxiety, and he's not the first.

Hopefully, this will gain traction, instead of being a blip, and will lead to some lifting of the stigma of treating mental health issues.
 
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ZilphaK

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There is also growing evidence that concussions can cause depression. Figure skating seems to just now be catching on to how dangerous concussions are physically, so it may not yet realize that their effects on mental health need to be treated, too.

I don't think this is being considered with anywhere near the weight youth sports should be giving it. And head hits are not necessary for TBI -- all it takes is the brain sloshing back and forth inside the skull. Watching these kids jump and fall and hit the ice over and over again, and then spin over and over (Lucinda Ruh talks about the effect spinning has had on her brain), it's hard to believe that there would be no overall effect of "micro concussions" over time, on growing brains. Females are especially susceptible to concussion because their neck muscles are weaker; they are higher risk of concussion in both soccer and ice hockey (non checking), simply because of female anatomy.

Again, I'd love to see a jump limit placed on skaters in training sessions, or a limit on number of falls per week. The problem with figure skating is that as an individual sport, there are very few eyes watching kids in practice and no protocol for when kids can come back onto the ice after a fall; it's all up to parents and coaches. In ice hockey during a game (where most concussions happen), if a kid takes a whack to the head, the coach can bench them -- and often there is a trainer or someone with medical knowledge on hand to help make the call -- and they need a doctor's approval to begin practicing again. There is no such oversight in figure skating during practices (which is where, I'm guessing, most injuries happen). I just see a so much more lackadaisical approach toward concussions, and that is troubling.
 
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screech

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Since speed skating was mentioned, I have to mention Clara Hughes, who has 4 olympic medals in speed skating (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze), as well as 2 bronze medals in cycling (one of only 5 people to medal at both the summer and winter games, and the only person to have won multiple medals at both.) After winning her first medals in 1996, she battled deep depression which threatened to derail her life.

She now uses her struggles with depression to be open about mental health and to try to help combat the stigma involved with mental health issues, and is the national spokesperson for Canada's "Bell Let's Talk" which sets out to promote mental health education, research, and awareness, and to end social stigma. "Bell Let's Talk" has donated over $90 million for Canadian mental health initiatives since it started in 2010. And an FYI, the 2019 date will be January 30.
 

ChiquitaBanana

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And I'll add Sylvie Bernier, 1988 gold medalist in diving and Sylvie Frechette, 1992 gold medalist in solo synchronized swimming as athletes having publically going out about their depression post-Olympics.
https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/photos...show/josée-chouinard-photo-1431372080615.html

If you can understand some French, here is a great reportage about depression among elite athletes, including Josee Chouinard : https://zonevideo.telequebec.tv/media/9390/la-depression/ma-vie-apres-le-sport
 
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ZilphaK

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I'll just add here as a final note on my part that 1) I love elite competitive figure skating and 2) I know that life, in general, is fraught with peril. That said, I do think there needs to be more open discussion (as we're having) and acknowledgement in all youth sports as to just what they heck bad can happen so that risk can be lessened, so that kids can get help more quickly, and so that parents and young athletes can make better decisions about what sports to take part in and at what level. There is so much good, so much positive about youth sports at the rec level, at non travel level, and without training and competing like a pro at an age when a child's body is going to possibly suffer consequences that won't "pay off" the way parents, coaches and kids think it will.

For ice hockey, I tell parents, "Join a low-cost rec league or low travel league. Learn to skate! Have fun. Let the kid make friends. If your child wants to be a pro, don't discourage, but be very realistic and keep sports part of the larger picture when it comes to raising your child, not the only picture. Protect his or her head at all costs, even the cost of quitting. And if your kid is the next Wayne Gretzsky, other parents will start to tell you -- unsolicited, and perhaps grudgingly --and you can go from there. Otherwise, your goal is getting your child to beer league in one piece."

For figure skating, I'd say, "Assume you'll have some nice runs at Regionals, maybe even Sectionals. By 10 or 11 years old and before pulling the kid out of school, get a bottom line dollar amount of what will take to get to senior nationals and do an honest assessment of your bank account; work with a coach who isn't your coach to do an honest assessment of your child's talent, skill, maturity and work ethic (without your sitting at the rink every day, yelping at them); be honest about your dreams versus your child's dreams and maybe start some "sports parent therapy" of your own (that goes for all sports parents); and know there is a whole, worthwhile world of testing, "for fun" competitions, and skating far into adulthood."
 

Aussie Willy

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What is nice this year is some of the girls I judged from when they were little are now joining the adult skating ranks (I have been judging for at least 12 years now). Fortunately in Australia once you turn 18 you can compete as an adult. They are doing it for fun and exercise and you can see how much they enjoy it. Some of them have had breaks from when they stopped competing in the national stream. But it also reinforces the need to skating pathways for skaters of all ages to keep people in the sport.
 

MrMystery

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Boys in the sport might encounter a bullying, as well. So many "concerns" from family and friends about "turning gay." :rolleyes: My figure skater son gets around it by also playing hockey. That's the "OK" way for boys to be on the ice, evidently.

Correct. That is a huge contributing factor to the lack of male figure skaters in the U.S. (and likely other countries, but I think it's much more prominent in the U.S.).
 

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