“I was so afraid to play and make a mistake,” said Victoria Garrick during her TedTalk at the University of California. As a volleyball player who struggled with anxiety and depression, Victoria thought it was time to bring mental illness to the table and explain the seriousness of the topic.
Let’s say that a player rolls an ankle at practice; that is a physical injury that a player would easily get the day off for. But if a player has been feeling depressed all week or has insomnia because of ongoing anxiety, that can not always be seen. This defines the fine line between physical and mental health and the seriousness of those “bad days.”
Out of the 33% of all college students who experience significant symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, only 10% of student-athletes in that group seek mental health support.
The website,TimelyMD, recently conducted a study of student-athletes and how they deal with mental health issues. As a student athlete, one specific line stood out to me.
“These students carry the hopes and expectations of their campus and community. Their wins and losses are seen by all, questioned by many, and criticized publicly.”
To me, this opened up my eyes to all of the internal struggles that athletes deal with daily and the self-guilt of letting down the fans or community. To some, the loss of a game or competition can be seen as just that, a loss. An athlete can move forward, work harder, and strive to do better the next time. For others, this is processed internally as a failure. This is where hidden episodes of depression come into play solely because athletes are afraid of being seen as weak or vulnerable.
Victoria Garrick stated in her TedTalk that she told herself that “she was too weak for wanting to take a break.” This means that asking for a mental health day or reaching out for help was once again interpreted as a form of weakness.
Struggling with mental health is not a weakness. If anything it is a strength. Student-athletes are juggling the weight of academics, extracurriculars, everyday life and still trying to be a regular college student.
The culture of college sports causes many student-athletes to avoid help when it addresses issues such as anxiety, depressive symptoms, burnout, the stress of team or individual expectations. On top of the expectations, these athletes have the everyday stress of dealing with relationships, academic demands, and life away from home.
Athletic departments have implemented certain sports medicine services that strive to address injuries or illnesses that student-athletes face. Where are the services for those with no physical injuries but who are hurting on the inside? As someone who has been playing sports her entire life, I understand that sports-related injuries have a substantial impact on long-term health. I promise there is more to being a student-athlete than physical preparation, health, and performance. It is crucial that we take care of our mental health because there’s nothing worse than falling apart from the inside.
If anyone struggles with mental health and needs someone to talk to, the Boone campus has an excellent counselor on hand. Rebekah Lauritzen is available by email or phone. 515-433-5219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.