The Reality Behind Mental Health In Student Athletes

The Reality Behind Mental Health In Student Athletes

Everyone deserves mental health days.
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As a student athlete I’m used to being viewed differently by my professors and peers. Now whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, I’ll leave for you to decide. But being an athlete generally comes with stereotypes, and one I really want to focus on is that athletes don’t get depressed or suffer from depression because of our “mental toughness.” Today I stumbled upon an article the NCAA published at the end of 2014 and something in it really struck me.

“College students – including student-athletes – are not immune to struggles with mental well-being. About 30 percent of the 195,000 respondents to a recent American College Health Association (ACHA) survey reported having felt depressed in the last 12 months, and 50 percent reported having felt overwhelming anxiety during the same period.“ (http://www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety/sport-science-institute/mind-body-and-sport-depression-and-anxiety-prevalence-student-athletes)

I’ve grown up praising sports, basically, because they’ve been my life since I can remember, but this statistic really hits home. A team is a place where you feel safe, a group of people that feel like family. I trust my teammates and I know they have my back if I need them, and the same goes for them. That is what makes a team so special, you are always there for each other through the good and bad, but lately, I’ve noticed a lot of bad.

“If you’ve got anything going on or distracting you make sure you leave it off the field, don’t think about it during practice.”

I’ve heard a variation of that statement my entire athletic career.

Every coach I’ve ever had has always reiterated that statement to make sure when you’re at practice all you’re thinking about is practice.

They want all your attention given to the drill, they want you to focus on what you’re doing and they want you thinking only of what is going on in front of you.

Coaches don’t want you thinking about a loved one who just passed, a significant other who you just found out cheated on you or maybe that someone in your family just got diagnosed with cancer.

They don’t want you thinking about your real problems because you need to be mentally tough, so you should be able to handle that for two hours.

It doesn’t mean they don’t care, because outside of practice coaches are usually there for you to talk to; they understand some of the struggles you’re going through because they are human too. They've all gone through their own struggles, but with athletics, you don’t get a mental health day. It’s not a thing; you’re told to leave outside thoughts outside of practice and to not let it bother you for the time you're there.

When you have practice, you’re expected to be at practice. No matter how tired you are, no matter how down you are feeling in a particular week or no matter how stressed out you are, you still have to be there. You have to be there because during those two or three hours you should only be focusing on practice, which in my opinion, is a lot easier said than done.

This week I’ve noticed it greatly. I’ve seen teammates struggle and am noticing myself struggling. I know I’m tired, I know I’m stressed and would love to just have a small break, but that day off comes once a week. Usually when you are extremely drained and don’t want to accomplish anything, so you feel as if you almost always waste it.

Practicing every day is already hard enough mentally and physically, add in emotionally and mentally draining experiences and being expected to pretend they do not exist is a problem in my book.

Thirty percent of female student athletes are struggling with depression and those are only the ones who have been willing to admit they are struggling. If I took my team of 20 women, six out of 20 of us would statistically be depressed, and that number is extremely alarming.

Mental health is a serious issue, but we don’t treat it like it is because we can’t see it. We have trainers for all our other injuries whether it is a sprained ankle or a broken bone. Those injuries require some time off of practice because you can see the problem, but that’s not the same for mental illness because we can’t see that. With mental illness, we’re just expected to put our problems and our emotions on hold in order to do our best in practice for a day, when all we really want to do is just throw in the towel and call it quits. It takes a lot to act like you want to be there and it’s difficult when you’re expected to always be positive when all you’re positive about is that you need a break.

Sports don’t let you take a break. Maybe that's what makes us tough, but it also takes so much out of us, even though we continue to make the sacrifices time and time again because we love our sport. It makes us feel like we have to keep pushing when everything in us makes us want to stop more than anything. But we can’t. We’re just used to pushing through, we’re taught to keep playing and to ignore the pain, so we do.

Cover Image Credit: Greg Mizak

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I Woke up In The Middle Of The Night To Write About My Fears, They're Worse Than The Dark

One minute I'm thinking about what I want to do after college next thing I know I'm remembering the time I tried talking to a boy and choked on my spit.

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It is one of those nights when I am tired, but for some reason, I can't seem to fall asleep. So, what do I do? I pull out my laptop, and I begin to write. Who knows where it will lead. It could lead to a killer article or something that does not make sense. I mean it is almost 2 A.M. In my mind, that's pretty late.

Anyways, let's do this thing.

Like many people, thoughts seem to pile up in my head at this time. It could be anything from a time when I was younger to embarrassing stories to wondering why I am "wasting" my time somewhere to thoughts about the future. All of these things come at me like a wildfire. One minute I'm thinking about what I want to do after college next thing I know I'm remembering the time I tried talking to a boy and choked on my spit.

The thought that is going through my mind as I write this is about the future. It's about the future of my fears. Let me explain. I have multiple fears. Some of my fears I can hide pretty well, others I am terrible at hiding. My fears may seem silly to some. While others might have the same fears. Shall we start?

1. My career

I don't know where to begin with this one. For as long as I can remember, my consistent dream job has been working in the world of sports, specifically hockey. A career in sports can be and is a challenging thing. The public eye is on you constantly. A poor trade choice? Fans are angry. Your team sucks? "Fans" are threatening to cheer for someone else if you can't get your sh*t together. You can be blamed for anything and everything. Whether you are the coach, general manager, owner, it does not matter. That's terrifying to me, but for some reason, I want to work for a team.

2. My family

Julie Fox

Failing with my family, whether that be the family I was born into or my future family, it terrifies me. I have watched families around me fall apart and I have seen how it has affected them. Relationships have fallen apart because of it. I have heard people talk about how much they hate one of their parents because of what happened. I don't want that.

3. Time

This could be a dumb fear. I'm not sure, but I fear time. With every minute that passes, I am just another minute closer to the end. With every day that passes that I am not accomplishing goals or dreams I have, I am losing precious time. It scares me to think of something horrible like "What if I die tomorrow because of something horrific?" or even worse, "What if I don't make it through today?" It's terrible, I know.

4. Forgetting precious memories

When I was younger, I had brain surgery. It is now much harder for me to remember things. I am truly terrified that I am going to forget things I will want to hold close to me forever, but I won't be able to. I am scared I'll forget about the little things that mean a lot. I'm afraid of forgetting about old memories that may disappear. I'm worried that I'll forget about something like my wedding day. That might seem out of this world, but it's a reality for me.

5. Saying "goodbye"

I hate saying bye. It is one of my least favorite things. Saying bye, especially to people I don't know when I'll see again, is a stab in the heart for me. I love my people so much. I love being around them. I love laughing with them. Thought of never having a hello with them again scares me beyond belief.

6. Leaving places that I love

Alright, let me start off by saying this- it takes a lot for me to love a place. It has to feel like home. It has to make me feel comfortable. It has to be a place I can go to and be myself. Thankfully, I have had and still have multiple places that are like that. I have also had places I could not wait to leave. I think that's why leaving places I love is so hard and something I fear so much. I am afraid I'll never get that place "back", for lack of a better term. I guess, I'm trying to say, it's like a piece of me is leaving as well.




These six things are just the start of my fears. Some of these might seem "dumb" or "ridiculous" to you, but for me, it's my life. These are the things that I think about the most. These are the things that feel like a pit in my stomach. These six things are parts of my life that mean a lot to me.

Cover Image Credit:

Emily Heinrichs

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I've Spent My Summer Focusing On myself And I Feel No Regret

Because you only get one you.

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I've never been good at focusing on myself. I feel everything hard. So, by default, I feel for others just as hard. I am drawn to troubled souls and always have been. I let toxic relationships seep into my life at an absurd rate. Then, I find myself loving those people in a way that they would never love me.

And so I push myself harder and harder until I nearly break, or do break. I keep trying to help, but when I finally fall apart and my pieces need to be put back together again there is only me.

I keep asking myself why I do this. Why do I do this when the outcome is always the same? Maybe it's because I can't help but love feeling needed. More likely, I put myself in these situations so that the energy I should be putting toward myself is spent elsewhere.

That is, until this summer.

Most college or even high school students want to spend their summers going on adventures with friends, spending time with their significant other, staying up well into the midnight hours, and so on. I can honestly say that my summer has looked nothing like that and I am more than happy about it.

For the first time in probably my entire life, I am focusing on what makes me truly happy. And sometimes, that means distancing yourself from even the ones you love dearly. Sometimes, you need to be your own best friend.

Days spent with friends are far and few. You can usually catch me watching movies or camping with my family on the weekends. I have fallen into the rhythm of a nine to five job (internship) where I've been given opportunities I could have never fathomed. "Sleepovers" consist of nights doing facemasks and watching Disney movies with my little sisters. Occasionally, I splurge for a scoop of ice cream coupled with long walks along the Monon with my dog. I take long, hot baths and read at night until my eyes grow heavy and my mind's no longer full.

My favorite memories from this summer will be the ones spent alone, the ones driving along back roads. I now find comfort in the silence that once drove me wild. It is in the stillness of the night where I have found the best version of myself. No longer do I try to create chaos to distract me from the noise in my head. I welcome the thoughts and questions that poke and pry with welcome arms.

See, what I've learned that I was doing myself a disservice by trying to ignore these pounding thoughts. I was not allowing myself the chance to dive deeply into who I am, what I want, or what I need. I kept trying to silence the pain without realizing that I was hurting for a reason. They didn't creep into my mind to cause me pain, but to tell me how to stop the pain. They were neon flashing lights, but I mislabeled warnings for causes.

Perhaps my summer has fallen short of being eventful, but it lacks nothing in success. Maybe there have been no wild nights and I will have no interesting stories to tell. I guess my summer dulls in comparison to the summers of my friends. Frankly, I don't care though. I do not regret being in bed by ten each night or all cuddles with my dog.

More than anything, I do not regret putting myself first and neither should you. It is not selfish to love yourself the same way you would love others. You are not self-centered for taking a break to focus on yourself. If everybody is expecting you to give them your personal best then you sure as hell deserve to be your personal best.

Cover Image Credit:

personal photo

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