Youth Injuries and Mental Health

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Jon Skau, Crook County High School Athletic Trainer talks about his perspective for keeping mental health in mind while treating injuries and interacting with youth on a daily basis.

In life there are a few things that absolutely nobody can avoid, like death and taxes. In the world of sports, its injuries. If you play any sport long enough an injury is likely to occur at some point along the way. If you are around competitive sports enough, you may notice that there seems to be  that one person who always seems to be getting “hurt”.  Magically, that same person always seems to be fine the next game or practice. Sure some people are more prone to injury for different reasons, but something always seemed off with that one player.

Something would happen in a game or practice and that one kid would be sitting on the bench, again. Rumors often spiral around the team about that kid with people talking and asking questions. They are just trying to get out of conditioning drills.  Are they really that lazy? Are they really always getting hurt? Or could it be that something else is going on? The true answer to that question is complicated. To do so it involves digging a bit deeper to find out what is really going on.

Role of an Athletic Trainer

As a high school Athletic Trainer, I am charged with the complete care of each and every student-athlete. I say complete care because that means both the health of their physical body as well as their mental health. It seems cliché to say but the mentality or lens with which we view our day-to-day life really does impact our lived experience. So what if that mentality is carrying around an unhealed hurt?

This is where the unique positioning of the high school Athletic Trainer provides a valuable opportunity to build rapport and investigate the potential underlying mental health issues. Now this doesn’t mean we have an all-access past to ask extremely personal questions just off the cuff. There is certainly a balance when trying to take an appropriate history and investigate any concerns that may arise. This is where knowing the athlete and knowing the community plays a significant role in how you approach a potential mental health concern.

It’s been my experience that often the “always hurt” kid is expressing a pent-up mental wound that manifests in a physical nature. I find myself asking, “What is this kid’s home life like?” I don’t know if maybe their parents just went through a nasty divorce. Or maybe they are going through or just went through  a bad break up. Maybe they had a really bad fight with a best friend. The list goes on and on. It is reasonable to assume that a wounded mind may lead to the body being more susceptible to injury, or the perception of injury.

Dismissing Mental Health Stigmas

Unfortunately, the “always hurt” kid often ends up getting a bad rap. Coaches and teammates tend to dismiss them rather than trying to investigate the root of the problem. What if that “injury” is a sort of cry for help? In an age where social pressure on our youth is increasing exponentially, it begs the question, shouldn’t we investigate? Even if it winds up being nothing, what if it is something? Sure that kid may just be searching for attention, but why? What’s causing that need?

It’s okay to not be okay and our youth need to know that adults are looking out for their mental health too.  When dealing with an “always hurt” kid, it is important to not dismiss their injuries or feelings. As parents, coaches, and healthcare professionals it is important we show the kids that we are listening to them and taking them seriously. Take a second and ask them how they are doing. Don’t feel pressured into asking anything too personal. Use whatever relationship you have with them to let them know two things. You see them and are there if they need it.

Written by: Jon Skau, MAT, LAT, ATC, Crook County High School Athletic Trainer for The Center Foundation in Bend, OR. Learn more about Jon HERE.