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  • Writer's pictureGrace Yu

Mental Health in Athletes

Updated: May 23, 2021

A student athlete survey reveals the silent challenges that come with playing high level sports-- and what should be done about it.

Photo Credit: Glory Media

Especially as we enter Mental Health Awareness Month, the importance of mental health during the pandemic is being emphasized and encouraged like it never has before. People have taken this opportunity to focus on their wellbeing by learning more about themselves or by reconnecting with family. In spite of the positive changes that have been made overtime, it seems as though there is an aspect of mental health that is almost always overlooked-- the one that affects student athletes.

A survey of high school athletes reported information proving the mental and emotional demands are just as taxing, if not more, than the physical demands.

The majority of the anonymous participants consisted of competitive athletes outside of school as well who all seem to recognize that “mental health is just as important, if not more important, than physical health.”

“Mental health is just as important, if not more important, than physical health.”

When asked to select from a list of factors that they identified at any point in time, around 50% chose options: balancing social life and sports, pressure from peers or coaches to perform, and a pressure to eat a certain way. 89% claimed that they felt pressure to do well in both school and sports or had difficulties balancing the two. Additionally, 85% of participants selected “Body Image” as one of the factors.

Finally, more than 70% agreed that mental health in athletes is an issue that should be better addressed in school and clubs.

Although this was only a small survey responded by mostly female participants, it is evident that there are a number of

expectations all student athletes deal with on a daily basis that are rarely, if ever, directly addressed.

The survey also gave participants a chance to share their thoughts on how mental health in athletes can be better addressed. The suggestions included: checking in once in a while, recognizing when to take a break, strengthening the coach-to-athlete relationship. One response advised that sports clubs and schools should “attempt to spark conversations about body image with their students and athletes.”

Several proposed that they would benefit from more supportive teachers who are flexible and aware of their heavy time commitments. Competitive sports alone can range from 1-3 hour length sessions 3-5 a week. While students do learn how to manage their workload effectively, the expectations out of class can make succeeding significantly more difficult, even unachievable.

With the ever-looming uncertainty in this ongoing pandemic, these stresses that usually affect student athletes will only heighten. What is for certain is the fact that athletes will never be alone. There is most likely a teammate experiencing something similar or available guidance that would be more than happy to offer support. By speaking out and normalizing conversations, the athletic community can take small steps to ultimately “foster a culture that's more inclusive to and open about the mental health of their athletes.”

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