Olympic Psych

Dr. Danielle Kamis visits the site of the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Mo. The Los Altos-based psychiatrist is currently serving as a backup sports psychiatrist for the Beijing Olympics. 

One Wednesday afternoon in her Main Street office, lifestyle psychiatrist Dr. Danielle Kamis received a text that made her jump out of her chair.

It was a message from the chief medical officer of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee asking her to serve as the backup sports psychiatrist for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

“I was very excited,” the Los Altos resident recalled. “I got very jittery, and it was definitely a very awesome moment.”

Kamis’ role as the backup sports psychiatrist is to remain on-call throughout the Olympics and Paralympics, heading to Beijing as soon as her help is needed. As a sports psychiatrist, she would be treating Team USA members and addressing issues such as sleep problems, anxiety attacks and panic attacks; she additionally can prescribe certain psychiatric medications under Olympic guidelines. She would ultimately be part of a mental health team with a sports psychologist and clinical mental health counselor.

According to Kamis, the Beijing 2022 games is only the second time Team USA recruited a sports psychiatrist. She noted that “special attention” was necessary for this year’s athletes, and having sports psychiatrists on the team would allow for medical treatment for mental health issues, and the ability to tailor treatment to each sport.

Kamis’ interest in sports psychiatry developed from her own competitive fencing history. She served as captain of the fencing team at the University of Pennsylvania.

“That’s where I had the student-athlete mind,” she said.

She added that she even had dreams of fencing at the Olympics, but medical school was ultimately her calling.

“(Being part of the mental health team) was my other vicarious way of going to the Olympics,” Kamis said. 

Since the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the role of mental health in sports has gained traction internationally.

“Athletes are like the rest of us – they all have certain susceptibilities to mental illness like anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties and ADHD,” Kamis said. “But sometimes they’re under very high amounts of pressure, and each sport might give a higher risk to a certain type of eating disorder or a certain type of substance abuse. I think that (athletes) should take that extra step (to seek mental health support) because it could make them able to give that extra peak in their performance, and also be able to feel satisfied inside about what they’re doing in their day-to-day life.”

The Beijing Winter Olympics began Feb. 4 and run through Sunday; the Beijing Paralympics are scheduled March 4-13.

Kamis’ office is located at 164 Main St., Suite 201, Los Altos. For more information, visit kamismd.com.

See page 20 for Kamis’ take on omicron and the media.

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