Missed Vital Signs of Medicine and Sport Training: Overtraining Leads to Decreased Brain Health

The recent loss of an ER Doctor in NYC is tragic, and my most sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and colleagues of Dr. Breen. To move forward from this and derive constructive gains, it is important to understand the confluence of factors that work against protecting the health of medical professionals. One specific factor relates to ensuring proper training of all healthcare professionals to promote a proactive approach to managing individual health and, thus, avoid excessive training loads, burnout, and poor brain health. I wrote about this dynamic in response to research focused on physician trainee health:

The brain and its health is the foundation of all human performance.

Dr. John Sullivan

I must admit, as a Clinical and Sport Psychologist who has worked within medicine and human performance, I was not surprised with the stated findings within the article entitled “Stuck in Despair: Why do physician trainees experience depression and suicide at rates much higher than the general public? And how can they get the help they need?” (see: Hopkins Medicine Spring/Summer 2016,

This quote from Zina Meriden, now a fourth-year resident in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine sums it up, “The attitude in medicine is that we’re these invincible people immune to problems like depression, when in fact that’s not true.” It is critical that our culture moves toward valuing brain health, and it is paradoxically concerning that medicine is not sufficiently attending to this issue or to matters of brain health.

There are remarkable parallels to sport. At the heart of the article “Stuck in Despair,” the authors are discussing the false ethos of mental toughness and grit (see:,, as well as overtraining and trauma — concepts that refer to an overload of physical, cognitive, and emotional stimuli which leads to reduced capacity by the central nervous system.

Bottom line:

Whatever the context, when work or ‘load’ is applied with appropriate dosing, then the training responses become adaptive and protect talent rather than diminishing it. Furthermore, if we want to achieve a high-performance culture, then that adaptive behavior serves as a model for that to occur, with health being the foundation.