In recent decades, the importance of mental health and taking care of the intangibles has become a major point of focus for schools at all levels in the United States’ education system. Across the country, a wide range of social and institutional factors serve as stressors for young people. The current statistical rate for symptoms of depression found in adults age 18-29 is approximately 21% according to the CDC; suicide is the third leading cause of death in young adults and college athletes.
The Sport Science Institute, in partnership with the NCAA, set out to create a survey that would gauge the mental health of athletes. In the study, 65% of women’s sports athletes and 58% of men’s sports athletes reported that mental health was a serious concern among their teammates. In fact, constant mental exhaustion was the most commonly reported concern among the student-athletes with the symptom impacting 38% of women’s sports athletes and 22% of men’s sports athletes. However, only 49% of women’s sports athletes and 55% of men’s sports athletes reported that they felt mental health was taken seriously by their college or university’s athletics department. Overall, the data shows a gap in the attention that the mental health of college students needs.
Improving mental health is no doubt a difficult problem to tackle as there isn’t exactly one true solution. The problem could lie in the balance between the physical and mental demand of a sport on top of academic and social commitments; however, many student-athletes rely on academic and sports scholarships with little room to breathe. Some college organizations emphasize creating more educational resources for college students regarding mental health, as well as having therapists on standby, but that raises questions about funding.
Researchers Sabrina Weigland, Jared Cohen and Daniel Merenstein attempt to explain one potential cause: collegiate athletes tend to feel a loss of personality once their time being on the field comes to an end because they have spent the majority of their lives as an “athlete.” In layman’s terms, this can be related to the idea of how coaches can subconsciously instill that the majority of an athlete’s focus and time should be towards their respective sport, and not so much of a balance of other academic and social commitment.
At one institution, Trine University uses a variety of academic reports to explain the importance of the topic at hand in their article, “Prioritizing Mental Health in College Athletes,” stating that “This idea has created a culture that values athletic performance over things like academic success or mental health. Today, a coach’s success is determined solely by the performance of their athletes, regardless of their relationship with the athlete or the athlete’s well-being.”
Overall, students at any college deserve to have help in any form for the anxiety that the world may bring on each day. For students involved in time-consuming extracurriculars, avoid the overemphasis on perfection that will inevitably sacrifice your mental health. As Bobby McFerrin once said, “Don’t worry, be happy.”