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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100 Ways To Practice Self-Care In Your Everyday Life, In 20 Minutes Or Less

Simple ways to start taking care of yourself.

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Life is overwhelming and distracting so it's easy to forget about yourself sometimes, but practicing small self-care acts is easy. Making time for yourself every day isn't selfish and is really good for your mental health. I think it's important for everyone to spend time doing things that make them happy and more calm, even if you only dedicate 20 minutes each day. Putting yourself first can lead to growth so many other aspects of your life.

Obviously, each person is allowed to practice self-care in their own unique way, but here are some ideas to get you started!

1. Do something new. 

2. Make a list of things you need to get done that week. 

3. Drink some hot tea. 

4. Go for a walk on a scenic trail.

5. Paint your nails.

6. Have a good laugh.

7. Buy yourself flowers.

8. Light a candle.

9. Do some tidying up.

10. Don't feel bad for saying 'no.'

11. Listen to music.

12. Slow down.

13. Drink a smoothie.

14. Run mindless errands.

15. Write down your goals for the week.

16. Talk to someone about the future.

17. Wake up early and get coffee. 

18. Take care of a plant. 

19. Take a bubble bath. 

20. Give yourself a compliment.

21. Give a stranger a compliment.

22. Watch a movie.

23. Put your phone down.

24. Declutter your personal space.

25. Go to bed early. 

26. Pray or meditate. 

27. Go for a drive. 

28. Make it a habit to stargaze. 

29. Read a book. 

30. Read poems. 

31. Sing loudly. 

32. Make a list of things you're grateful for. 

33. Drink a lot of water. 

34. Put on make-up for no reason.

35. Watch funny videos. 

36. Take a deep breath. 

37. Distance yourself from negativity. 

38. Unfollow people you don't care to follow on social media. 

39. Have a pajama day. 

40. Read an inspirational book. 

41. Call your parents/ loved ones. 

42. Donate old clothing. 

43. Dedicate a day out of the week to not eating meat. 

44. Do a fun craft or DIY project. 

45. Put on a face mask and relax. 

46. Do a small workout. 

47. Take a power nap. 

48. Listen to a podcast. 

49. Open a window. 

50. Open your curtains in the morning to let in natural light. 

51. Make your bed. 

52. Cook dinner instead of eating out. 

53. Play/ cuddle with an animal. 

54. At the end of the day, think of all the positive things that happened.

55. Moisturize. 

56. Buy a comforting blanket. 

57. Give someone a hug. 

58. Create a vision board. 

59. Have some alone time.

60. Enjoy the sun on your skin. 

61. Dance like nobody is watching.

62. Walk in the rain every once in a while. 

63. Drive with the windows down. 

64. Give someone a gift for no reason. 

65. Get a massage. 

66. Do something that gets your adrenaline running. 

67. Spend the day at the library or a book store. 

68. Organize your work space/ binders. 

69. Spend a weekend in. 

70. Recognize hard work and reward yourself. 

71. Sign up for a work out class. 

72. Eat lunch with a friend. 

73. Spend the day helping others. 

74. Get your hair done. 

75. Have a good cry. 

76. Use sticky notes. 

77. Color code your planner. 

78. Print out pictures and hang them up. 

79. Hang motivational quotes on your mirror and read them when you get ready. 

80. Do random acts of kindness. 

81. Buy fuzzy socks. 

82. Redecorate or rearrange furniture. 

83. Be present. 

84. Set a new years resolution. 

85. Make a bucket list. 

86. Stretch in the morning. 

87. Watch an interesting documentary. 

88. Make a music playlist.

89. Watch the sunrise or sunset. 

90. Explore somewhere new.

91. Be slow to respond to negativity. 

92. Have a game night with friends. 

93. Buy concert tickets. 

94. Have a nightly routine before bed. 

95. Eat your favorite dessert. 

96. Do something you've been putting off. 

97. Invest in essential oils. 

98. Manage your finances. 

99. Buy a new outfit. 

100. Make your own gratitude list. 

Try at least one of these every week and see how you feel! I guarantee you will notice a difference in the way you are living your life.

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Poetry On Odyssey: A Stress Call

It's the most stressful time of the year!

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It's the season of stress

When people seem the busiest

Final exams, presents and time

Students grades are on the line


Is it really the season of love and giving

Or are people too worried about money and winning

People stress about everything, big or small

It is not healthy all in all


Stress plagues peoples lives

People are too focused on "mine, mine mine"

In the world we live in, what can we do

About not having people or outlets to turn to


In a world with such confusion

And problems knocking at the door

Is anyone paying attention

To the call of the people anymore


Stress may seem overbearing

Or impossible to defeat

Keep your eyes on the dreams

You've always wanted to complete


Stress is just a roadblock

On the road called life

Continue to press on

It will be alright

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