Student-athletes need mental health support

Less than two percent of high school athletes go on to play at NCAA Division I schools. Many see being a Division I athlete as the ultimate goal: a way they can show that they’ve “made it.” But many fail to realize that behind all that glory are early mornings, late nights and long, mentally-taxing days.

I am finishing up my fourth year as a student-athlete at the University of Detroit Mercy. While being a student-athlete has given myself, along with many others, some of our best memories and opportunities in life so far, there are so many mental heath problems that remain unseen.

Some days I wake up at 6 a.m. only to return to my room at 10 p.m. after multiple practices, classes, meetings and work. I find myself finally being able to take a deep breath and find a sense relaxation for a moment.

But that moment is brief, for I then realize I have to do it all again the very next day.

It can feel like an endless cycle looming over your head. The same hours of practice every week, accompanied by a job and a full class schedule? While maintaining a social or family life? The expectations can be too much.

The constant pressure to be successful on and off the field can be overbearing; not to mention dealing with the highs and lows of the game that can carry on into your day.

One poor performance is enough to send a mentally-stable student-athlete into a whirl, so imagine what it could do to an athlete who already struggles with their mental health.

According to the NCAA, student-athletes are reportedly dealing with anxiety, depression and mental exhaustion almost twice as much now since the year 2019.This past year was an especially tough year for student-athletes. Throughout 2022, five NCAA college athletes felt so hopeless that they took their own life. How could we lose five of our own all in one year? Are we missing something? What are we doing wrong?

Student-athletes are expected to be resilient. However, when it comes to mental health, it is unacceptable to tell a student-athlete to be “mentally tough.” Anxiety, depression and a wide array of other mental health issues may not be seen, but that does not mean they do not exist. They are real. Very real. They tend to only be taken seriously when someone goes so far as to take their own life.

Student-athletes deserve to be taken care of.

Deep inside of them is just a kid, who fell in love with their game and pursued their dreams. Nurture that childlike love inside of them. Listen to their problems.

But most importantly, assure them that it’s okay to feel this way and there are ways to get help. Sometimes a helping hand and an encouraging smile can go a long way.