#102: How to Support Your Athlete’s Mental Health w/ Sadie Sutton

click here



Supporting female athletes’ mental health can be very challenging especially if they’re in their teenage years. 

A lot of them are very good at hiding their struggles. Some have difficulty communicating their feelings with the people around them. And it’s overwhelming. 

So, how can a mom support their daughter’s mental health, especially in her struggles during her athletic journey?

Let’s get answers and shed light on that question today with the help of our special guest, Sadie Sutton. Sadie is a 19-year-old student-athlete from the Bay Area, currently studying psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She hosts a mental health podcast called She Persisted, which she started after a year and a half of intensive treatment for severe depression and anxiety.

In our latest podcast, Sadie shares helpful insights on how parents can better support their athletes’ mental health based on her personal experience as a teenager.

Here’s a sneak peek into our conversation:

What is your story? 

So I started to experience pretty bad depression at the tail end of middle school, like seventh and eighth grade. I was actually hospitalized four times for depression and suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt. And I tried everything that you can imagine, whether it was inpatient stay, intensive outpatients, C B T D, B T, group therapy, family therapy, or individual therapy.

If you’re a parent who has been through this, those things will undoubtedly ring a bell and make you think, “I’ve heard of that, or I’ve tried that.” So my family and I did everything locally to support my mental health, to help me find relief from the sadness, anxiety, and suicide ideation I was feeling, but nothing was working.

My parents did a ton of research about what is effective for adolescent depression and anxiety and more from an intensive treatment perspective. So a step up from the outpatient therapy that we tried, they found this amazing program at McLean Hospital, which is right outside of Boston.

They specialized in dialectical behavioral therapy, which places a strong emphasis on embracing where you are, the circumstances you’re in, and the obstacles you’re facing, and striving to change them.

Since then, I was working to improve my relationship with my parents. I was trying to decrease these feelings of depression and anxiety. Stop having suicidal ideation, and stop self-harming these other problematic coping mechanisms or maladaptive coping mechanisms.

I learned to increase good behaviors, improve self-esteem and healthy communication, and advocate for help when I needed it. 

Those skills and that treatment modality were game changers for me. And so for the first time in my treatment journey, I cultivated enough self-compassion.

What can parents be doing to help support their athlete’s mental health? 

A lot of athletes are good at concealing their struggles. And most teenagers don’t know how to communicate it with the people around them.

Just in the past year, there have been several collegiate athletes who have taken their own lives. A lot of parents say they didn’t think anything was wrong. These were high-achieving athletes. This just proves that no one could ever know what is going on on the inside.

So as a parent, what should you do to help?  

#1: Observe and notice:

So you really have to observe and notice; Are they doing things less than they used to? Most teenagers when they are feeling depressed or anxious or overwhelmed, if they don’t have a strong relationship foundation, you’ll probably see them withdrawing a little bit more. Your interactions with them will feel off. So those are some consistently noticeable things.

#2: Treat every emotional conversation seriously

A teacher might comment on it, a counselor, or maybe your teen will come to you and ask for support. When this happens, one of the most beneficial things a parent can do is treat every emotional conversation seriously. 

And when your daughter comes up to you for help just be validating. Be just as open, and be just as supportive as you would in that situation because then they know what to expect. If they feel like they might need to ask for help or they want to go to you, they know you’ll be there for them.

You can try and say things like; 

“What do you need from me? How can I support you?”

“Do you need a break? Do you need more help?”

“What can I do to support you?”

Having that predictability with how you’ll respond in an emotional situation, will make it easier for them to open up to you. Exercise their power to decide and instead of telling them what to do, give them options and the power to choose for themselves.

#3: Take care of yourself

Even if you are a parent and your daughter is searching for your help, you should not have to go through this alone. It’s a massive, crushing load to bear. It’s quite a bit. Getting that support for yourself is critical, and you’ll be able to better serve your daughter if you take enough time to rest and care for yourself.

You’ll be more successful at validating. You’ll be more patient, more forgiving if they’re having a bad day and lash out. 

You’ll be able to approach every topic in a highly successful manner, establishing a connection in which your daughter feels safe and comfortable approaching you for assistance.

Are there any common things that parents do that aren’t beneficial and that we should avoid?

Yes. So, before treatment, my parents and I had a really difficult relationship, and we’re still working on it. I believe I’ve reached a stage where I can be okay even if that relationship is not that perfect.

And it’s wonderful if kids or parents can get to that stage because relying on any relationship to feel happy is unhealthy. It’s not advisable, especially when it’s a parent-child relationship with so many emotions where teenagers don’t communicate well.

So, how should parents respond if their teenagers aren’t asking for help? What can a parent do to assist even if the parent-child relationship is still in progress?

#1: Don’t rush into problem-solving

I remember when I started being depressed, I had been hospitalized once or twice and my parents didn’t even trust me to sleep in my own room. So I slept on a little pullout mattress that we put next to their bed and their room, and I would sleep there every night. In the morning my parents would get up, they’d start their day, they’d get ready, and my dad would wake me up for school. At that point, I don’t feel like getting up and I don’t want to wake up. 

So, my dad would play classical music at volume 10 to force me out of bed but it did not work. I still laid in bed with a pillow over my head, and then he’d get down really close to me and say. 

“If you don’t go to school today, you’re not gonna be able to have attendance. You’re gonna miss out on really important things that you’re learning about in school. You’re gonna fall behind, You’re not gonna get good grades, you’re not gonna get into college, You’re not gonna be able to get a job.” 

I already know the consequences of my action and was already saying those things to myself, but it still feels overwhelming to hear them thinking that I can’t take action and change that at the moment. 

There are two things that I’d like to point out based on that experience. One; Forcing people to get up with loud music is not how you solve depression. Two; don’t over catastrophize things because more or less every depressed teenager out there already knows the possible outcome of their actions, they just couldn’t bring themselves to change it. 

After we did treatment, the way that my dad interacted with me when I was struggling was very different. If I was laying in bed and didn’t wanna get out of bed, he would say something more along the lines of…

“I see that you’re really struggling.” 

” I see that you’re in a lot of pain and that you’re not okay, and I don’t really understand what you’re going through, but I see it and I want you to know that I’m here for you”

So he was validating rather than trying to solve the problem. And I believe it is another important thing that parents should strive towards. As parents, you are far wiser than your kids. You’ve been around a lot longer. You’ve gone through some difficult experiences, so you have a lot to advise. But I believe that in many cases, teenagers do not want that advice. They simply just want someone to listen to them. They just want to be validated.

They want you to say you see them and what they’re going through. Sometimes, they might want advice, but wait until they probably ask for it.

 So when you go into problem-solving mode, which is totally normal, ask your daughter first if they want advice or if they just want someone to hear them out.

#2: Have the skills to support their mental health

You’ll be able to support them so much better if you have the skills and they’ll probably learn them from you. As a parent, you are your daughter’s model, whether that’s in a good or bad way. Having the skills to properly support and manage your mental health and emotions would be really helpful for them.  


As a mom, you can support your daughter’s mental health by learning the skills yourself and showing up as a good example for them. 

Observe and notice changes in their behavior and routine. And if they come to you for help, listen and validate their feelings by treating every emotional conversation seriously. To do that, you must take care of yourself.  Your daughter isn’t the only one that needs to learn how to cope with these big, overwhelming experiences in life. The emotions that you feel as a result also need to be coped with and, and not dealt with, but worked through. 

Don’t rush into problem-solving. Aim to be your daughter’s safe space first. Take it one step at a time and help them have the skills to cope by standing up as a good example and having the skills to support mental health for yourself too. 

Invest in yourself. Your daughter picks up on what you’re modeling and you have to know how to support them too.

Any form of mental discomfort or mental health problems would provoke powerful emotions in the parents. So it’s advantageous if you can manage your emotions as they occur, whether they’re feelings of guilt or shame, perplexity or overburden, sadness, loss, or loneliness.

You can help provide the opportunity for your female athletes to have the skills and improve their mental health on their own, but it’s not just them who have to learn these skills. You need it too. 


Helpful Links:

The BEST way to help us spread the word and get this information into the hands of millions of parents, coaches, and female athletes is by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Thank you in advance for joining us on our mission!

All Episodes, Sports Mom Extras

listen now

In the latest episode of The Raising Unstoppable Girl Athletes Podcast, Coach Bre shares tips on unlocking the power of confidence to help girl athletes excel.

Do This To Be More Confident In Your Next Competition

listen now

Kylie shares her insights into how utilizing resources like those taught inside ECP has helped her level up by improving her mental game.

How To Train The Mental Game w/ D1 Beach Volleyball Player Kylie DeBerg

listen now

ave you ever had to deal with negative teammates? The ones who bring unnecessary drama or negativity to the team dynamic?

Athlete Tip (How To Handle Negative Teammates)

Know what to say with these top episodes

Your Varsity-level skill set

Listen to our most loved 
athlete tips episodes

Looking for tips for your athlete?