• Lily Vaughan

Fighting the Stigma: Mental Health in Athletes


** Warning: this article discusses mental health and suicide.



“We have to put the person before the student and the athlete otherwise we lose all three.” -Dr. Candice Williams LPS


Students undergo pressure in their day-to-day lives, trying to balance life with friends, family, school, extracurriculars, etc. On the other hand, student-athletes (specifically collegiate athletes) face additional pressure, that is often overlooked. Having to represent their school, compete and excel at an elite level, and live a balanced life is harder than it seems.




Not only does pressure affect an athlete’s mental health, but so do their injuries. As it states in the NCAA handbook, “an athlete’s self-esteem and identity may be negatively affected by their inability to do the thing that they enjoy and do best”. Student-athletes can also become depressed as a result of “overtraining syndrome”. Overtraining is a whole separate topic, but there is a large misunderstanding between knowing the difference between working hard or overworking in athletes. This tends to lead to injury and/or mental health conditions.




There is a clear lack of understanding in the culture of athletics and sports. The stigma that athletes can’t show weakness, and should “suck it up”, is where all of the problems start. However, in reality, these elite athletes are human just like the rest of society and can struggle with their mental health. A study regarding student-athletes participating in the NCAA collegiate athletic programs stated that “Student-athletes are also less likely to seek out professional help than non-athletes” (Moulton, Molstad, & Turner 2000).


The stigma that athletes may leave athletes feeling weak for reaching out for help, losing time to train, losing respect from others, or even worse being in denial of the state of their mental health.


The recent tragedy of Standford’s Women’s Soccer goalkeeper, Katie Meyer’s suicide, sparked conversation surrounding mental health in student-athletes. This is not the first time the world has seen something like this. There have been many instances in the past where collegiate student-athlete has ended their life.





Unfortunately, mental health conditions are turning into a pattern for student-athletes. One can notice a positive trend in the number of suicides we are hearing about. According to a Healthy Minds Study conducted by Daniel Eisenberg, Professor of Health Policy and Management at UCLA, The rate of depression and anxiety has doubled among college students over the past decade.


It’s crucial to bring awareness and elevate the conversation about mental health in student-athletes. Many do not realize the impact this pressure has on these student-athletes until it’s too late. Mental health is real. In the United States, nearly 73% of students experience some sort of mental health crisis, according to https://www.mghclaycenter.org/. Additionally, Almost 1/3 of college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning. These numbers do not exclude coligate athletes.


Athletes’ mental health matters, just as much as anyone else. Athletes are so much more than the number on the back, the entertainment they provide, or the school uniform that they wear.





There is a stigma of embarrassment and shame surrounding mental health, especially in athletics and it’s important that society works on destigmatizing mental health, and instead normalizing it and supporting those around us. There’s empathy for a physical injury like a torn quad, or sprained ankle, but not nearly enough when it comes to a mental health condition.


In conclusion, too often, the mental health of student-athletes is overlooked, but if we want to see an end to the pattern awareness needs to be spread, and the stigma surrounding student-athletes and mental health needs to be fought.


Sources:

https://www.athletesforhope.org/2019/05/mental-health-and-athletes/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-matters-menninger/202007/how-destigmatize-mental-health-treatment-in-sports

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2022/03/04/stanford-katie-meyer-felt-pressure-death-her-mother-says/9377269002/

https://ph.ucla.edu/faculty/eisenberg

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/mental-health-in-athletes/

https://theithacan.org/sports/healing-mind-and-body-injured-athletes-struggle-with-mental-health/

https://thevarsity.ca/2021/09/04/the-unseen-mental-health-struggles-of-elite-athletes/


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