My heart aches. Aches for the athletes who are no longer with us. Aches for the families who lost their child. Aches for the friends who lost their best friend. Aches for the teammates who lost someone they loved playing with.
As days have carried on, the list of student-athletes who have taken their lives has lengthened. We see the posts, the “We love you”, the Go Fund Me’s created for the families. But how come tragedy must occur for people to listen, and see, that student-athletes are hurting?
There is so much pressure on children from a young age to be the perfect athlete, formulate their identity around their athletic abilities, and to base their worth on how well they perform. So, when did we stop caring about the human in them? All these student-athletes we have lost are people first, people who happen to find love in their sport, or at least once did.
Student-athletes are faced with overwhelming schedules, intense trainings, little downtime, loads of schoolwork, traveling, all while attempting to be a person outside of the athletic world. For many, that isn’t an option, if too much time is spent with friends, or at home, they may lose their playing time. It’s not just that. In the past few months, we’ve seen top performing student-athletes take their own lives, while appearing to excel and have it all to outsiders.
If you take anything from this article: Mental health is frowned upon in the athletic world. Student-athletes are expected to be these ‘perfect’ individuals that represent the school well, get good grades, and overachieve in their sport. These athletes shouldn’t have any mental health issues, right? That’s where we have it all wrong. Many people will say we need to ‘toughen up” and this generation has “become so sensitive”. It has nothing to do with being sensitive or not strong enough, but rather the ‘glory’ of athletics isn’t what it looks like to outsiders. So many athletes struggle with mental health, but the conversation is silent until someone can no longer bear the pain of living anymore. So, let me ask again, why does tragedy have to occur for people to listen to the fact that student-athletes are hurting?
There are many factors to it, and yet, there is still a stigma pertaining to mental health, and that student-athletes shouldn’t struggle. I know in my own personal experience; I wasn’t allowed to tell my coaches that I was struggling with anxiety because I was told they would use it against me. Therefore, I kept it a secret, but to this day I look back and wonder why someone would use a struggle of my mental health against me? Why do we, as student-athletes, who give so much to our school, our time, our dedication, our hard work, are expected to not face any mental health struggles?
To me, it was easy, I lied. For a long time, lying to yourself about how you’re doing, until it’s so difficult you can’t hide it anymore. Even in discussion, student-athletes lie. We lie so we aren’t looked down upon for struggling. We lie so it doesn’t impact our playing time. We lie because we don’t want it to be real. We lie because struggling is wrong, especially if you can’t see it on the outside.
That’s where the narrative MUST change. NCAA student-athletes are at a high risk when it comes to their mental health, and I must ask why we’re not easier on those who make so many sacrifices to play a sport? Be kinder when they’re growing up, encourage those hard conversations, provide resources more than at the beginning of the year meeting, make talking about mental health a priority. And have support systems in place to help our athletes, not stigmatize them for struggling with something people can’t physically see.
I’m tired. Tired so seeing more beautiful lives lost. I’m tired of mental health being shoved in the corner, because as an athlete, if you can’t physically see it, it’s not real. I’m tired of the conversation being stuck on social media, there needs to be a change. Why aren’t there psychologists on each team in the same manner there are athletic trainers? We are more than just athletes. We all deserve to be properly supported and seen as human beings. Beyond our sport, we are so much more, so when is the world going to see that?
So, I ask you this, speak up, be loud, and share your story. Mental health is health, your sport doesn’t define you, and you matter.
I could go on and on about mental health, but writing this only gets me so far, it’s time we take action. We must be willing to go to the athletic departments and demand therapists for each team, we must open up the conversation so we can stop losing amazing people. The loss of someone is never easy to deal with, but we have to be better, we have to be more supportive, and we have to change. We must provide the resources that so many athletes didn’t have before. It’s not enough to just talk about it, change must occur for lives to be saved.
Enough is enough. Mental health is health. We’re more than just the sport we play.
If you are struggling with your mental health within your sport, consider reaching out for a consultation.