What are the additional mental health struggles that student-athletes must deal with?
Mental health is widely discussed across society, the way it impacts people can be seen through educational and social settings. Throw being a student-athlete into the mix and its highlighted even more. A normal day to day student must deal with deadlines, workload, socialising, downtime and work requirements which all can lead to heightened stress levels and mental health issues. Athletes alongside this then have fatigue, performance stress, training time management, lack of socialising and financial stress, these can all lead to loneliness and mental health issues. Sport is often seen as an escape for people, a way to remove stress out of their lives, however the athletes that want to take the sport as far as possible then must deal with the added pressure and educational stresses together. So, students themselves often deal with mental health struggles and athletes also face mental health struggles. Put those two together and you have an individual that deal with a lot of pressure and stress.
A recent study into student-athletes mental health
The mental health within student-athletes is often overlooked. A study was conducted looking at the levels of mental health issues within student-athletes and the data indicated rates of mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression have seen little change since 2020 remaining 1.5 to two times higher than identified before the COVID-19 pandemic Mental health issues remain on minds of student-athletes - NCAA.org . Often the reason mental health within student athletes is overlooked is because of the stigma athletes feel they must have, often observed as the strongest amongst their peers. As soon as they open up about struggling mentally the way they feel viewed within society changes, and it can lead to further performance concerns from coaches and athletes themselves if they open up into the spotlight.
You're taking up an elite athlete space at a University, does someone struggling mentally deserve that place? Will people view me as a weaker person or athlete for being open? Will my lecturer understand why I'm handing my work in late? Is my University project good enough? Am I performing the best I could be? Do people understand why I don't have loads of time to socialise?
My personal experience of mental health struggles as a student-athlete
As a student-athlete myself, who has gone through mental health difficulties from combining studying alongside taking my sport seriously, the stigma of being open about the difficulties with mental health is so obvious. Society leads you to act in one fashion, but often the trends associated to that fashion are not beneficial as athletes. These can be things like nights out, drinking and constantly having the free time for socialising with others. Going against these trends can lead to the separation and loneliness that being a student-athlete can make you feel. It seems that although these student-athletes feel like they can't reach out it's also the case that they don't know who to reach out to. Having experienced reaching out and highlighting I needed a helping hand the response I was given was to simply cut down on the amount I had on my plate. This consisted of training and studying, both of which I am unable to cut down on. After a long half a year I have found a rhythm with coping with the constant demands that being a student-athlete has to offer, but it does make me wonder is there enough support out there for student-athletes struggling with mental health difficulties?
How can student-athletes get supported more?
Universities lay their focus on offering student athletes psychology support which helps them find their focus during competition, but they don't give the persons mental health much consideration. Perhaps Universities need to have the balance of someone who understands mental health but also the role the athlete takes on as an individual within their sport. As an athlete we push through pain, clear hurdles others have crashed into, that's how an athlete improves Athletes need mental health support beyond performance psychology | The Ithacan . So, it is so hard for an outsider to understand what is going on within the inside when the student-athlete does constantly look to punch above their weight. At what point are they punching too far above? How can you tell? At the end of the day, you just can't, it needs to be explored on a regular basis with the student and a mental health/ student ambassador who understands and can have a normal conversation with the student. This will also lead to less athletes feeling like they are at a sigma loss with being open to an individual rather than having to be open to a large group or following.
Student-athletes must deal with a lot more pressure and stress to continue meeting the standards themselves and others set out for themselves. Are these extra pressures being forgotten about?