By Gretchen Beyer
Mental health is not always an easy topic to talk about publicly, yet that does not diminish its significance.
For student-athletes, the pressure is even further escalated.
Living as a collegiate student-athlete is a demanding and daunting task.
The athlete needs to make time for class and their studies, along with time for practices, games, and mandatory lift sessions.
If they are lucky, they will have some time to spare for themselves, doing whatever they so choose.
This cycle gets to be extremely stressful for an athlete who is trying to live up to the expectations of their professors and coaches, which leaves little time for them to consider themselves and their mental health.
A lot of student-athletes will not admit it publicly, but privately they are struggling.
Athletes all have a competitive nature inside of them, so for them to show they are struggling mentally, would be admitting to losing the battle.
What athlete likes to lose?
In a study published by AthletesForHope, an organization that advocates for athletes’ mental health, it was stated that, “33% of all college students experience significant symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Of college athletes with mental health conditions, only 10% seek help.”
Katie Meyer is a prime example.
A 22-year-old senior goalkeeper on the Stanford University women’s soccer team, one of the most prestigious academic and athletic schools in the country.
Meyer had several sponsorships and accolades as a senior at the university, including saving goals in the penalty shoot-out in the national championship game versus the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Saving goals in the shoot-out allowed Stanford to become 2019 NCAA national champions.
Meyer was planning to graduate after the spring 2022 semester with the hope of being drafted into the NWSL, a professional soccer league for women in the United States.
However, before she could get there, she had taken her own life in her dorm room on March 1, 2022.
The soccer community was stunned. Several of Meyer’s teammates and professional soccer players chimed in on social media, expressing their condolences.
Gina Meyer, the mother of the 22-year-old goalkeeper admits that her family had “no red flags” regarding the suicide in an interview conducted by TODAY.
Meyer also said that “There is anxiety and there is stress to be perfect, to be the best, to be number one.”
This is a statement that many athletes across the country can probably relate to.
The athletics program at Stanford has several counselors and psychologists on hand, ready to work with athletes, yet in some cases, it is either too late, or the athlete does not want to or is scared to speak up for themselves.
Meyer isn’t the only student-athlete that has taken their own life recently.
There was Maddy Hollerman, a Dl runner at the University of Pennsylvania, Morgan Rodgers, a Dl lacrosse player at Duke, and Austin Weirich and Evan Hansen, both Dl football players that took their own lives.
University of Nebraska’s sports psychologist Todd Stull said that the demands of a student-athlete today are high.
“The pressure associated with student-athletes daily routine can create intense emotional responses. The time, energy, and effort put into developing skills in a given sport can result in imbalances in other areas of life. Developmental and environmental influences shape emotional, motor, and social aspects of the brain,” Stull said in an article published by the NCAA.
At Daemen University, the mental well-being of athletes is also considered.
“If mentally they are struggling, typically you’re going to see a physical struggle as well,” Daemen University’s assistant athletic trainer and adjunct instructor Karen Roehling said.
Working firsthand with athletes every day over many years, Roehling knows the pressure the student-athletes face and how important it is to prioritize mental health.
Many colleges around the country have mental health professionals and psychiatrists available to student-athletes at no cost to them according to Roehling.
However, as mentioned previously, only ten percent of student-athletes speak up about the state of their mental health.
At Daemen College, the CHIP Center is available to all students, however, it has been noted that among student-athletes, there is not one specific person to help.
Roehling said in an interview that she likes to have an “open-door policy” when it comes to helping athletes with their mental health.
Since there is not a specific sports psychologist present at Daemen, athletes know they can go to their athletic trainers for help.
While student-athletes expectations may be higher at bigger universities and bigger athletic programs, it doesn’t lessen the importance of the mental well-being of the Daemen University student-athletes.
When it comes to mental health, tennis is one of the sports that need a lot of focus.
Sophomore tennis player Frida Rubio emphasized the importance of her mental health on and off the court.
“Tennis is an extremely mental sport, so it is important to balance mental health,” Rubio said.
Agreeing with Roehling, to perform well on the court, she must have her mind right first.
It is helpful to have ways to release all the stress built up from daily activities.
With everything student-athletes endures on a daily or weekly basis, relieving stress in one way or another is necessary.
“I like to paint to relieve stress. It’s always been very peaceful for me to stop what I’m doing and take time for myself to do things I enjoy. I think it’s necessary for people to take time to themselves when life gets hectic,” Rubio said.
The University of Southern California has been active in this conversation.
They have one of the largest university-based sports psychology programs in the country, according to an article published by the university.
They have trained psychologists and counselors who specialize in working with student-athletes.
Yes, Daemen University has athletic trainers and coaches who care about their athletes, but they are not mental health professionals.
Roehling and Rubio are just some of the personnel at Daemen who have taken notice.
Roehling said that the Daemen staff always likes to make student-athletes aware of the counseling services that are available on campus, yet they are not student-athlete specific.
USC has a program specifically designed for athletes, composed of former student-athletes, so they can relate to and understand the struggles an athlete may be experiencing.
“I do think we could use more [resources] here because a lot is placed on us as athletic trainers, being the medical professional,” Roehling said.
She also suggested Daemen make connections with an outside corporation or organization that would work closely with student-athletes.
Even Rubio gave her opinion on the resources offered by Daemen.
She said that when the school gives “mental health days” they’re usually used to catch up on schoolwork, rather than truly relaxing, which is the purpose of them.
She also said that the services Daemen does offer are not easily accessible; that most students don’t know about the CHIP center, or how to find care reports on the school’s website.
Mental health and the treatment of mental health in student-athletes have gained popularity in the past years.
It seems as if winning is the most important thing when it comes to collegiate athletics in some programs.
Many aspects can affect a student-athlete’s mental health, ranging in reasons from success from the sport, or stress from schoolwork.
As enforced by many health professionals as well as an athlete herself, prioritizing mental health is crucial if an athlete wants to perform to the best of their ability.
It does not mean that someone is weak if they express concerns. They are the strong ones, and to speak up for themselves is challenging for most.
Collegiate athletics, especially sports like football and basketball, bring in revenue as a form of entertainment to the public.
Like any athlete whose career is publicized, comes a bit of fame. Mental health of all must be protected.
College is hard for any individual who chooses to enroll.
Add the demands of a sport, no matter what division, it is a lot to handle.
With all the pressures of succeeding in sports and academics, the pressure can wear on anyone.
It is important for student-athletes to have an outlet, something that helps them to relieve stress when they are feeling overwhelmed.
Without this outlet, stress and sometimes negative thought build up which may lead to more negative side effects, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or unfortunately in several student-athletes cases, suicide.
At colleges, mental health professionals are an outlet for athletes, when schools provide them for their athletes.
When they are not present, it almost makes it harder for athletes to seek help.
Above all else, mental well-being in collegiate athletes is crucial to peak performance.
Speaking up for themselves and protecting their mental health first is the best kind of training they can do.
If there is no other answer, there is a suicide hotline, (800) 273-8255, available 24 hours in several different languages only a call away.