Dr. Dawn Kamilah Brown: Destigmatizing Mental Health Support for Athletes
Elite athletes face many unique pressures and circumstances that can affect their mental health, but they often lack the resources needed to deal with those concerns in a healthy way.
When Dr. Dawn Kamilah Brown noticed this trend among some of her athlete patients, she decided to start working to address it on a broader scale. To do this, she created Mental Healthletics, a system to support elite and retired athletes of college and national sports organizations.
Dr. Brown is also the founder and CEO of ADHD Wellness Center PLLC. She is double-board certified in Child, Adolescent, Adult and Sports Psychiatry, and she’s a best-selling author, blogger, influencer and podcast host who is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading ADHD experts.
The Becoming is proud to partner with Mental Healthletics and Dr. Brown through our role as the official national counseling provider for Hall of Fame Behavioral Health. Mental Healthletics provides mental health outpatient services as part of our national provider network.
In this article, Dr. Brown discusses the importance of increasing athletes’ access to mental health resources, and she breaks down the details of what an athlete can expect if they visit her for treatment.
The Problem with Athlete Mental Health
Dr. Brown never expected to work in sports psychiatry, but while working with several athlete patients in her private practice, she noticed that most of them lacked mental health support or even an awareness of what they might need.
She soon realized that research supports this idea, suggesting that athletes don’t only lack resources, but they also deal with higher rates of mental health issues.
“It is estimated that 35% of elite athletes at some point in their career will experience some degree of a mental health issue; that is a higher percentage in comparison to the general population of 20%,” Dr. Brown shared. “However, the biggest concern was that athletes hardly had access to mental health resources within their support systems, which was very disturbing.”
Along with common mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and substance use, Dr. Brown has also noticed that the lack of awareness around athlete mental health often prevents people from seeking treatment.
Additionally, athletes don’t receive enough guidance and support to help prepare them for life after their sports career.
“The majority of athletes have not been encouraged to discuss their mental health, therefore some may initially decline help even when they are experiencing emotional pain,” she shared.
Supporting the Athlete’s Entire Ecosystem
In her work at Mental Healthletics, Dr. Brown believes it’s important to not only serve the athletes, but also the family members who will likely be their biggest sources of long-term support.
For that reason, Dr. Brown was especially excited to partner with Hall of Fame Behavioral Health, because the program extends services to the family members of active and retired players, as well as to the athletes themselves.
“This extension of services is important not only for the individuals and family members who benefit, but also impacts the outcome of the athlete,” she explained.
A Custom Approach to Mental Health Treatment
To help athletes manage the pressures, stress and expectations they deal with — both in sports and in their daily lives — Dr. Brown developed The GOAT Mindset™ Program, a 3-step system for On and Off the Field Success.
Rather than taking a prescriptive approach to mental health, the program emphasizes the importance of treating each athlete in a way that is tailored to their unique needs.
“The individual athlete’s mental health issue and their professional league’s policies regarding mental health management determine the treatment options I discuss with them,” Dr. Brown explained. “My practice with athletes is established as a concierge model, based on the type and level of care I provide.”
Every athlete who works with Dr. Brown starts out with a discovery session, which involves extensive mental health screening and an assessment of the patient’s questions, problems and concerns.
Then, Dr. Brown works with the athlete to develop a curated program, which will address those specific concerns.
“This program will tailor the core components of the athlete’s mental health needs, to include access from a multidisciplinary team of mental health specialists that I may consult and provide recommendations for the athlete and the athlete’s ecological systems,” she explained.
For the third step, Dr. Brown sets up a subscription concierge program model, which includes access to a “multidisciplinary mental health squad,” including licensed and board-certified specialists in areas like psychiatry, psychology, pharmacy, ADHD coaching, alternative medicine, mindfulness, nutrition, spirituality, and more. Having an entire team of support can make a major difference for athletes and their families, Dr. Brown shared:
“In many cases, an athlete’s support system for their mental wellness has been a key factor to optimizing and maintaining athletes’ mental wellbeing and overall functioning.”
Improving Performance and Preparing for Life After Competition
Throughout her time working with elite athletes, Dr. Brown has also developed three tools to help them improve performance, build a structured lifestyle, and prepare for their transition out of playing sports:
The Performance Accelerator Program helps athletes understand any mental blocks or conditions that are affecting their performance on the field, so that they can receive treatment and learn practical strategies for things like improving confidence, managing performance anxiety and overcoming negative thoughts.
With the Structured Lifestyle and Support System Game Plan, athletes work with a team to develop a structure and routine that will help them balance life on and off the field, improve their relationships and be able to focus and perform better.
Finally, the Post-Game Preparation Roadmap helps athletes understand their own identity and navigate the transition to a post-career lifestyle so they can find purpose and fulfillment even after leaving sports.
Overcoming the Fear of Reaching Out
Though Dr. Brown understands why many athletes hesitate to seek mental health treatment, she encourages them to take the leap and reach out for help if they need it.
“I would first want to normalize mental health for this athlete, ensuring them that we are all on the spectrum when discussing our mental health,” she shared.
She also wants to reassure athletes that their treatment will be completely confidential, as all therapeutic work is protected by medical privacy laws.
And if an athlete would feel more comfortable navigating the process along with someone they trust who can offer support and encouragement, that is also an option.
“Providing a framework and explaining what the process could look like creates a general idea of what to expect and lessens fears of the unknown,” she shared.
Ultimately, Dr. Brown believes that one of the best strategies for overcoming the fear of seeking treatment is to imagine the positive impacts it could have on your life.
“Encouraging athletes to visualize what treatment and after treatment can look like allows athletes’ concerns to be addressed and provides a better understanding and a greater hope for their situation to improve,” she explained.