The Reality Behind Mental Health In Student Athletes

The Reality Behind Mental Health In Student Athletes

Everyone deserves mental health days.

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.“ (

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 of 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 everyday 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 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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Poem: Get Over You

I wish you knew how I really feel

This is the poem when your heart keeps you in an unhealthy relationship. You never liked the way they made you feel, but you still give in. This is the poem where you decide to finally fight back, and finally say what you have to say and feel what you really feel.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue;

I can’t wait to get the hell over you.

Sometimes I wish I knew how much pain you caused me.

Sometimes I wish I never even met you.

Maybe for once I wouldn’t feel like a fool.

A fool for letting you in.

Only to weaken me.

But I shouldn’t have to push this pain aside,

and pretend you’re the best thing to happen to me.

I wish I told myself that earlier,

because as the years go on,

the easier it is for me to fall head over heels for you.

So why am I still doing this?

I tell you how I feel to your face,

but you don’t listen.

You just stand there and clap when I’m done speaking.

I have to explain everything to you,

but it only goes over your head,

and I’m still the idiot.

Everyone scoffs as I don’t even listen to myself.

Brainwashed by the infatuation rushing into the room.

I guess holding your hand

is no different from two glasses of pinot noir.

I don’t know why I still let you get to me,

and I guess that’s why you still break me down,

but manage to hold my heart in your hands.

My heart wants me to love you,

but I don’t think I know what I want

so I settle for good enough.

Roses are Red,

Violets are Blue,

I think I should find someone new.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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How Can Our Generation Make An Impact On The Addicted Population?

We see good people succumb to terrible habits and addictions, but there are ways to turn it around and see things in a different light.

The sad truth of the matter is that the younger population is the overwhelming majority of people that make up the addiction population. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the United States is facing one of the worst opioid epidemics where at least 116 people die from opioid-related drug overdoses (as of an estimation from 2016) on a daily basis.

If you take a larger look at the situation at hand, young adults from 18 to 25 years of age are the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers. Those numbers, unfortunately, are reaching a maximum high as the years go by.

It takes one reason to pick up a joint, pop a pill, do a line, or shoot up once. Peer pressure, letting loose, and never backing down from a challenge tends to be one of the main reasons for doing so.

Carefree and innocent to a certain extent, the young adults of our generation think that they are invincible to the point that one time will not hurt them. It is probably what makes it acceptable to do ridiculous, life-threatening stunts such as the 'Tide-pod' challenge.

While this is an age-old discussion with no new facts brought to the table, there is a human behind the addiction that we tend to forget and that I want to bring to the forefront. The young generation that thought that the one time trial would not affect them now have fallen from grace.

Strung out and listless, they may not be resilient enough to go back on the straight and narrow because of deeper issues that are still being ruminated about. So whatever the initial reason was to start out on this path of experimentation then turned into a full-blown illness that has gotten so out of control. As bystanders, we tend to marginalize the issue, toss it under the carpet, and forget that it exists.

I do not claim to be an expert on addiction. I have not spent years studying this population or have people that I know succumb to the illness, but I do know what it feels like to make a judgment call on these people. For the last several weeks, I have had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what has happened or not happened to these people. It is eye-opening, to say the least, and it made me reflect on a few things.

Mental health, in general, is something that society tends to avoid. Opening up to the people around you is difficult to begin with, but it is even harder when you do not know why you feel the way you feel.

Perspective on your life situation becomes warped and the people around you who think they know you make it easy to convince yourself that you are in the wrong. It is unresolved issues and undiagnosed mental disorders, that push people into substance abuse and we tend to not recognize it.

Those who suffer substance abuse or addictions feel that the only source of support is the substance itself. The most memorable thing I have heard from behavior group therapy is this:

[Substances] does not talk back, does not demand attention, and does not need comfort. It is just a friend that waits for you like a loyal puppy. And for a vast number of people suffering from addiction, it is a true statement. When people have failed to love and support them, substance abusers tend to go for the substance whether it be alcohol or opioids.

For those who do not suffer from addiction, we lose sight of what is important for the people who do. A first reaction to seeing someone who is suffering addiction is to take a blame game stand. "You are not trying hard enough," is a typical response for some who do not understand how addiction keeps a person captive. To the people who suffer addictions, the main focus tends to be how to get relief from the things that are uncomfortable. It does not make it easy when the people around them are not supportive.

So what should the next steps be? We are peers of many people who suffer addiction and are in a position to make a real impact. Our jobs (however difficult it may be) are to listen and recognize when someone needs help. And it starts when addiction (opioid or otherwise) is treated like an illness.

It is 10 times easier to relate to someone who is suffering from diabetes than it is to someone suffering from mental illness or addiction, which is saddening and sobering. The first step that all of us can do to put a dent in reducing the number of overdoses and deaths is to help others make the right choices for them. It is easier said than done, but it can make a world of difference in someone's life.

So if ever a friend or a family member musters the courage to admit they have a problem, it may be a good first step to turn off the judgment and lend an ear.

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