How MLB teams are adapting their approach to mental health: ‘It’s part of the human experience’

Without fail, there is always an awkward moment when Ed Chavez meets the Colorado Rockies in spring training camp.

“One of the first questions was, ‘How many of you have a disability?’ Almost everybody raises their hand because they’re ballplayers,” Chavez, the Rockies’ clinical psychologist, told CBS Sports.

“Then I ask, ‘How many of you have had a mental health problem or a mental health challenge? Raise your hand.’ You can feel the tension in the room.”

Few players raise their hands slowly, Chavez said. Others seem unsure whether they should be or not.

Chavez acknowledged the tension in the room and asked the players if they felt it. They always hum in agreement.

“I know some of you may be unsure if your condition qualifies for a mental health exam. Or maybe you’re afraid of being judged,” he said. “Let’s talk about this.

“We all face mental health challenges. It’s part of the human experience. We all can feel a little depressed or anxious or overwhelmed. We all feel that way.”

Chavez compares it to when someone asks you how you’re doing. The default response is usually “good” or “good”. But this is not always true. On the other hand, people tend to be more honest when asked how they feel physically.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could talk about mental health as honestly as we do physical health?” Chavez told CBS Sports. “Our goal with an organization like the Rockies is that when a player struggles with mental health, I want them to get support as easily as if they’ve pulled a ligament or sprained an ankle.”

To make it easier for players to visualize things that affect their minds, Chavez likes to use what he calls a mental health bank. Things that negatively affect you, such as not getting enough sleep or comparing yourself to others on social media, are “outtakes.” Positive things like hobbies and a good night’s rest are “deposits.” If you keep spending without saving, you will eventually find yourself in trouble.

It’s a simple concept, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Playing professional baseball may seem like a dream, but the pressures are unimaginable.

“You never fail in Major League Baseball. You feel like you have to prove yourself every day,” former MLB outfielder Billy Beane, who now works for MLB and helps with mental health programs, told CBS Sports.

Beane — who played for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres — pointed to financial strains in particular. Superstars may be locking in contract extensions, but most players are struggling every day to keep their jobs and guarantee a pay check for next season. Constantly checking yourself means it’s easy to get in over your head, Bean said.

“Every day is not going to be perfect,” he said. “Even guys like Mike Trout, he went 0-for-26 last year.”

Much like coaches heal a sprained ankle, MLB teams employ specialists to help players mentally prepare to perform at their best when they need it best. For the Rockies, that’s Douglas Chadwick.

“Baseball is tough because of the amount of downs,” Chadwick told CBS Sports. It’s about being in the moment, being present, letting go of the final voice and being able to focus on that. efficiency now”.

Chadwick teaches players to focus on their confidence and focus more effectively. On the mound, for example, he works with Pitch to develop a routine that includes physical actions and thoughts that help bring you back to the present moment.

It allows players to have labels that aren’t entirely based on their athletic ability.

“If your whole identity is tied to what you do, not who you are,” Chadwick says, “you’re going to have a lot of trouble dealing with problems.”

But what happens when you feel rejected as a person? That isolation is what he faced during his playing days.

The high school valedictorian and college baseball All-American began his career after being selected by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 1986 MLB draft. Within two years, he was called up to the majors, then bounced around several MLB teams and Nippon Professional Baseball. But off the field, Bean was dealing with something much bigger than his playing days: he was secretly gay, hiding the truth, because at the time it seemed like the only option.

“I felt like a guy like me didn’t belong in Major League Baseball,” he told CBS Sports.

His teammate, Sam, died of HIV-related complications the day before the start of the 1995 season with the Padres. He accepted the loss in silence.

“When my partner died of HIV, it felt like the ultimate example of not belonging to me,” Bean said.

Bean came out officially in 1999, four years after his retirement. Now, he serves as MLB’s senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. The goal is to ensure that no player feels the same isolation that he did.

The league has changed dramatically since the 1990s, as has the United States as a whole as a society and culture. The mental health approach is not perfect, but it has been reformed. Today, players are encouraged not to go through their struggles alone.

Three players have been on the injured list this season due to mental health issues. Oakland A’s reliever Trevor May, Detroit Tigers outfielder Austin MeadowsAnd Rockies closer Daniel Bard. In order to do so, a player must be “evaluated by a qualified mental health professional as having a mental disability that prevents the player from rendering services,” according to the league.

“It’s a hard thing to accept,” Bard, who was already working his way back to the majors after defeating the yips, told reporters in March. “But I’ve been through this before. I have enough to do outside of the game to realize what’s important. … I’m very grateful to be in an organization that understands and embraces these things.”

Chadwick pointed out that mental health struggles are nothing new, but players were (and probably still are) hiding what was really going on, instead chalking up their absences to injuries. He said players who have the courage to discuss personal matters in public deserve a lot of respect.

“I think the coaches in particular have become very sensitive to that,” Chadwick told CBS Sports.

Chadwick travels with the team and, thanks to a new MLB rule, sits in the dugout with the players during games. It establishes relationships with them and helps them know how to get mental help. But he does not examine them – this is the work of Chavez.

Veteran players are still less likely to talk about their issues, but younger players seem more willing to share, both Rookies specialists said. Although the new generation is more open, Chadwick and Chavez both say mental health resources are still largely underutilized by athletes. However, the progress they have seen over the years is making them optimistic about the future.

“We need to make it a lifestyle where we talk about something every day, like we think about our physical health,” Chavez said. “We think about the food we eat or our bodies and our physical activities. If we do the same with our mental health, we will be thriving, we will be strong.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, the MLB Free crisis text online (“MLB” to 741741) Available 24/7 in English and Spanish for anyone in need of confidential mental health and crisis support.

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