What’s Hurting Our Athletes- The Heart and Mind of a Former Collegiate Student-Athlete:

                                                            -An Anonymous Article, December 2018 

Mental health in collegiate student athletes? Ever heard of it? No? Don’t worry you’re not alone...

 As I finished up my last semester as a collegiate student athlete and a psychology major, I realized that rarely anyone addresses the mental health in collegiate student athletes. Why is it that no one addresses it? Is it because collegiate student athletes are privileged? Is it because these issues are “a part of the game” and we should know how to handle our emotions? It is time to face the facts that many collegiate student athletes are trying to combat an internal mental battle on their own… and many of them are losing. 

 According to a TED Talk by Victoria Garrick, 100 male and female athletes from NCAA Division I universities were surveyed. Out of those 100 athletes, 69.7% reported experiencing symptoms of depression. That number is staggering and cannot be overlooked any longer. 

 I wondered what it would look like for a program and coaches to prioritize their athletes mind’s and mental health first, before anything else. This thought was a fleeting one though, because it is a rarity to find a coach and a program that values the mental health in their athletes. 

 Battling mental health as an athlete and in my own personal relationships has been a recurring theme in my life since I was in high school. In high school one of my teammates attempted to commit suicide. Thank goodness she was unsuccessful. However, the rumors still flooded the school and my teammates and I were told, “Keep quiet, the family doesn’t want anyone to know what reallyhappened.” It was from that moment, I realized that no one wants to talk about the nitty gritty and “real talk” of mental health in athletes No one want to take time to get down to what is truly going on within each one individual. 

 Fast forward to my college years where I had a teammate who was clinically depressed, but no one on my team knew because she was the “happiest person ever.”Due to my psychology classes and past experiences with mental health, I knew there was more going on than met the eye, something deeper beneath her “happy” exterior. Once I confronted my teammate about her depression, it was almost as if I could see the chains break that was holding her down. Someone had finallyfigured her out and truly understood her.

 As teammates, we were with each other for at least 20 to 30 hours a week, and road trips are an entirely different story… we basically lived with each other. So then, how could my other teammates not realize that our teammate is clinically depressed? Actually, the real question is- How could they? All that we as athletes are “supposed” to be thinking about and focusing on is:

 Focus only on winning and how you perform...

Focus on who is getting a starting spot and how you will get that position...

Focus on time management (morning weights, breakfast, class, class, class, lunch, afternoon practice, meet with professors, meet with study groups, homework, dinner?- no time for that- shower, bed)...

Focus on lifting the heaviest in the weight room, but don’t be sore after, because you have to compete in practice later… 

Focus on getting A’s in all of your classes…
Relationships? Social group? Forget that…

Focus on your future career and know what you’re going to do with your life after your athletic career and after you graduate…

 DO NOT think about your family issues.

DO NOT think about your intimate relationships, if you’re one of the lucky ones who can carve time away for a relationship, but what in your life is taking a hit because of it? 

DO NOT think about the exam you haven’t studied for.

DO NOT think about your anxiety and/or depression… because if you don’t think about it, it’s not really there- right

 And EVERYTHING else in between!

As athletes, many of us have learned from a young age to “fake it till you make it.”To me, this means no matter what is going on in your life, suck it up. Suppress your emotions. Do not let it affect you or anyone else on the team until after practice or the competition. You can deal with it later… or not. 

What in the world is that teaching us as individuals? What happens once we are done with our athletic careers and we have to deal with situations that are out of our control? Are we supposed to “fake it”then?

To the universities, coaches, and athletic programs, what are you teaching your athletes? Are you taking time to invest in the mental health of your athletes? What would your program and university look like as a whole if you cared about the athlete’s mental health first? Why is mental health in collegiate athletes a taboo topic? Sure, we are physically strong, but we struggle too... just like everyone else.