Mental Health Plagues College Athletics

May 16, 2022

Picture this. You are a high school athlete, putting in countless hours of hard work and dedication to your sport. At the end of your high school career, you are granted the opportunity to play college athletics. Your hard work has finally paid off, you get congratulated for your success, and you cannot wait to see what the future holds for you. You are truly living the dream, and it sounds great, right?

However, little did you know that 30% of college students struggle with mental health issues. Among that group, only 10% of college athletes seek help for their mental health, leaving an unknown number of athletes who are affected. When looking into this topic, you see the numbers more clearly – 30% of women and 25% of men who are college athletes have reported experiencing effects of mental health. 

You brush the statistics off, thinking to yourself that you would never be a part of those numbers. Yet, after spending time at college, participating in your sport, and balancing your academic career, you begin to feel the pressure build up. Scared to let anyone down, you brush these thoughts and feelings off because you “have it all.” You have nothing to complain about, right? You are a college athlete. You are living the life that so many dream of. 

Then it hits you. 

One day, the pressure build up becomes too much and you find yourself slipping into a dark place. You become one of those numbers that you swore you would never be a part of. For some, they may seek help, but for others, they may resort to drugs, alcohol, self harm, and worst of all, suicide. 

On March 4, 2022, Stanford University women’s soccer team lost one of their own to suicide. Star player Katie Meyer was a goalkeeper for the team, and was described by her friends, family, and teammates as someone who ‘lived life to the fullest.’ She is remembered to always have had a smile on her face, though she had a lot on her plate. 

On April 1, 2022, star lacrosse player, Robert Martin, passed away due to suicide. Martin played for the State University of New York at Binghamton, after being a promising athlete at his Syracuse, New York high school. He was currently in graduate school, and was described by those who knew him as ‘supportive’ and always in ‘good spirits.’ 

On April 25, 2022, Sarah Shulze, a University of Wisconsin track star, took her own life after “balancing athletics, academics, and the demands of everyday life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment.” Schulze had a bright future ahead of her, with many of her closest contacts saying she was a “power of good in the world.”

The stories just shared with you are examples of the saying, ‘you never know what goes on behind closed doors.’ Each of the three college athletes had their own stories, but they shared one thing in common – they put a smile on their faces, even when there was a constant battle going on in their minds. 

The pressure to always be perfect, the feeling that everyone is watching your every move, and the stress that comes along with college life combine together, oftentimes developing into mental health issues for many college athletes. Many feel as if they cannot reach out because it makes them look ‘weak,’ ‘incapable,’ or a ‘failure.’ 

Key factors in suicide among athletes range anywhere from pressure to perform to injury. Overtraining, social media scrutiny, balancing relationships with school and sports, and a constant need to be better also play into the mental health of athletes. 

These shocking, grief-stricken deaths have led to a somewhat positive change in the college athletics world, though. A push has been made to provide access to mental health help for not only college athletes, but college students as well. 

In 2021, 24,000 college students attempted suicide, and 1,100 students were successful in their attempts. Behind accidents, suicide is the leading cause of death in college students across the United States. These high numbers of attempts and mortalities have raised a giant question for colleges, universities, and secondary education centers. “How can we improve the way we talk about mental health?”

Many institutions have provided on campus services with mental health professionals, allowing students to seek help when they need it. Seminars, messages, and support groups have also been organized in hopes that students begin to see that they are never alone.  

It is important that we end the mental health stigma surrounding not only athletes, but students, parents, and children alike. Struggling with your mental health does NOT make you ‘weak.’ Taking time for your mental health to improve does NOT make you ‘incapable.’ Reaching out for help does NOT make you a ‘failure.’ 

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, drug or alcohol abuse, or suicidal thoughts or feelings, know that it is never too late to reach out for help. You are strong. You are capable. You are worthy. You will win the battle in your mind. 

If you are in need of assistance, the Suicide Hotline is available at 800-273-8255.

If you need to talk to someone, organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are always available and can be reached on their National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). 

You will never fight alone.                                                                                                                                                                          

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