Student-Athletes and Mental Health: How Can We Help?
by Kafui Kemeh
Sports. One of the many activities that youth participate in at least once in their lives. Whether it be on an organized team or just in a PE class, youth sports is one of the most important parts of being a kid. In fact, 56.1% of children ages 6-17 have taken part in organized sports at least once as of 2019.
Youth, especially high school and college student-athletes often have to juggle with the pressures of school and the demands of their respective sports. Sometimes the pressure can be overwhelming and at times can feel crippling. Being a student-athlete can mean having long days with school back to back with games or practice, and little time for self-care and quality time with loved ones.
Data focusing on student-athletes goes to show some concerning statistics. It is estimated that 10-20% of student-athletes suffer from depression. Student athletes are also more likely to experience social anxiety and suffer from substance abuse as opposed to their non-athlete counterparts. Furthermore, while 10-15% of student-athletes will experience mental health issues serious enough for psychological counseling, these students are less likely to seek out help due to stigma.
In an effort to acknowledge the effects of disparities, data from the NCAA shows that student-athletes facing the most challenges with their mental health tend to be women, POC, LGBTQIA+, and low-income. The most common concern in a survey conducted by the NCAA is that 38% of female student-athletes and 22% of male student-athletes reported constantly feeling mentally exhausted or mostly every day.
How Can We Help?
A student, an athlete, and especially an individual who is both can’t perform the best when they aren’t feeling the best mentally. One of the major roadblocks to student-athletes getting the help they need is stigma.
We need to start from the source. Whether it be the high school, college, or academic and athletic departments, mental health resources must be readily available and accessible for all student-athletes to find. More psychologists and sports psychologists need to be hired for student-athletes to utilize when their struggle is too difficult to combat on their own.
Most of all mental health education for coaches, teams, and athletic trainers is proven to give individuals more confidence to address their own mental health issues or someone else’s, so they can get the appropriate help.
Mental Health Spotlight
One organization that excels in addressing the stigma around student-athlete mental health is The Hidden Opponent created by Victoria Garrick Browne, a former Division I volleyball player at USC. The organization provides a safe space for high school and collegiate student-athletes to find support for their mental health through different programs. They provide panels, podcasts, and resources for coaches and other professionals to help educate them in the context of the mental health issues their student-athletes face. Another program more geared towards students is the Campus Captains program. This program is for student-athletes who are looking to help advocate for mental health help at their respective schools and campuses as well as attending THO events. To learn more about the Campus Captains program click here.
To find more resources for student-athletes, please visit our website Middlesex4MentalHealth.org and find student-athlete resources here!
- Youth Sports Facts: Participation Rates — The Aspen Institute Project Play
- Mental health in the student athlete – BelievePerform – The UK’s leading Sports Psychology Website
- Mental health issues remain on minds of student-athletes – NCAA.org
- How to Destigmatize Mental Health Treatment in Sports | Psychology Today