Mental health is an integral part of everyone’s life and character, and its awareness has become more prevalent in the world today. Our mental health helps us make sound decisions, handle stress, and communicate with others effectively. However, many Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, and they can manage symptoms with certain medicine, therapy, and exercise/movement. Although student-athletes have the constant advantage of physical activity, they are among those who struggle the most with mental health issues. College athletes (and all student-athletes in general) are challenged to perform at their best while doing their sport and continuing their studies in the classroom and also to incorporate some sort of social life in between school and athletics. Especially at the collegiate level, many athletes struggle to maintain good mental health, and many organizations and individuals have fought to break the stigma around this crisis and have continued to find ways to support student athletes’ wellness.
Those who play a sport have the same everyday stressors as the general non-athlete population but with added pressures and expectations of practices, competitions, and their education. At the NCAA level, 10% to 15% of athletes (which is 2% more than non-athletes) suffer from mental health issues in which therapy is needed (Hansen). Athletes are extremely prone to poor mental health for a myriad of reasons. They may have some trouble with physical pain and afflictions. The huge commitment to their sport from a young age also places some under a lot of pressure. When it comes to their education, their academic standards are elevated, as they are expected to commit lots of time to their athletics while holding the same expectations in school as their non-athlete counterparts. This invisible injury tends to affect athletic performance, and it is easily overlooked. Life’s stresses and the pressures of outstanding athletic and academic performance are burdens extremely difficult to balance with good mental health conditions, and it is important that everyone receive the help they need to perform at their best.
There is deep stigma around speaking out about mental health, but many are working to form support systems to bring awareness to this topic and provide aid for those who are struggling. According to research done by the NCAA, “student-athletes who have mental health concerns may be even more reluctant than a non-athlete student to seek help” (“HELPING”). The NCAA, which is the governing body for most collegiate level sports, is one of the many organizations that is dedicated to promoting the well-being and successes of student-athletes at the college level. The NCAA, in collaboration with other organizations, is working to educate the public on this issue and normalize talking about mental health. This organization has in-depth strategies for communicating with athletes and staff and explains the effects of mental illness, but one can take the first step in coming forward about their mental health by simply identifying sources of stress and symptoms and setting aside time for themselves. Then, once more comfortable, they can reach out to a trusted individual and explain how they are truly feeling. It is imperative that anyone who is struggling has the assistance they need to overcome any problems and must know that they are not alone in this fight against mental illness.
A lot of student-athletes find it difficult to keep up their mental health, and many people are working to aid athletes in their challenges while breaking the stigma usually formed around it. Good mental health conditions are key to achieving success, however, the many athletic and academic stresses may make it difficult to accomplish. Through organizations such as the NCAA or just by reaching out to friends and family, one can find ways to manage life’s pressures. Mental health is something that affects everyone, not just athletes. Anyone struggling with their mental health needs to know that they are supported and loved and someone is always willing to take a moment to sit down and listen. This public health issue, however silent it may be, should not be overlooked and should be treated like any visible ailment.
“HELPING SUPPORT STUDENT-ATHLETE MENTAL HEALTH: A Primer for Campus Stakeholders Outside of Athletics.” NCAA, www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Mental%20Health%20Information%20stakeholder%20primer.pdf.
Hansen, Liliana, AthleteNetwork. “The Prevalence of Mental Health in Student-Athletes.” Athlete Network, athletenetwork.com/blog/the-prevalence-of-mental-health-in-student-athletes.