Opinion: Student athletes need better mental health support

Around the world, millions of student-athletes play varsity sports, from top division to junior college. No matter the level, being a student-athlete comes with mental and physical challenges.

Since March, five NCAA student athletes have died by suicide: Sarah Shulze, Katie Meyer, Jayden Hill, Robert Martin and Lauren Bernett. Each of these successful student-athletes lost their lives battling mental health issues.

As a student-athlete, I live the same horrible schedule that other athletes go through every day. Balancing school, 20-plus hour practice weeks, meetings, travel, contests, multiple jobs, and social life leaves you exhausted with almost no time for mental self-care. The rigorous tasks of a student-athlete are very difficult, leading many of us to deal with mental health issues.

Universities usually provide student-athletes with a psychologist or athletic counselor as a resource they can talk to; however, this may be seen as a weakness for some athletes and coaches. The college athletic environment needs to normalize by providing mental wellness support to all student-athletes.

Student-athletes deserve to know that not being well is okay. A student-athlete’s mental health should be held at the same level of importance as physical health. To perform at the highest level in a sport, an athlete’s mental and physical health must be in good shape.

I believe every college athletic program should provide a team of counselors, therapists, and social workers who speak with every student-athlete about mental wellness. Even if a student-athlete is not showing signs of mental illness, they still have a resource to approach to prevent future mental struggles from arising.

Additionally, college athletic programs should hold mental health seminars to increase awareness of mental health issues among students and coaches. Learning about mental health will allow student-athletes to check in with their teammates and find helpful ways to help each other.

Overall, I think more needs to be done to help student-athletes with mental health issues. Colleges and universities around the world should come together to provide a strong mental wellness system to improve the lives of their athletes. Together we can make a difference.

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