- The student-athletes on many of our favorite sports teams may face unique challenges and setbacks during their college sports career.
- Student-athlete mental health may be affected by the constant stress of maintaining elite athletic performance while balancing class and a healthy social life.
- Student-athletes may also struggle with body dysmorphia, heckling from spectators, low self-esteem, and sleep deprivation.
- Student-athletes should reach out for help from a university counselor, or seek professional services if they feel as though their mental health has started to suffer.
When many of us tune in to watch our favorite basketball, football, or volleyball team, student-athlete mental health is often the last thing on our minds—and tend to only feel upset if our beloved team loses. From our perspective in the bleachers (or from the couch), it might seem like student-athletes are able to function perfectly, without anything holding them back—or afflicting them mentally.
Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. Student-athlete mental health concerns are a real issue, and due to stigma and the possibility of unsupportive peers, these athletes may not know where to turn when faced with depression, body image issues, chronic stress, and more.
Student-Athlete Mental Health: What Are the Ups and Downs?
Being a student-athlete can affect your mental health in some positive ways—exercise can often reduce mental stress, promote mental clarity, and increase positive relationships with peers. However, student-athletes are also at a greater risk of requiring treatment for substance use, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders compared with other students.
The pressures to fit into an athletic team’s social group may bring on some social anxiety. Additionally, the pressures and demands of being a student-athlete and balancing academic priorities are tremendous.
How Many Student-Athletes Have Mental Health Issues?
There’s no real way to gauge student-athlete mental health on a large scale, especially when reporting such concerns is often heavily stigmatized. What is certain is that the pressure to maintain a high level of academic performance, become accepted into a team’s social network, and also maintain a high level of athletic performance brings on an elevated amount of mental health challenges.
Many student-athletes may be high achievers due to the drive expected of them both on and off the field and often struggle with perfectionism: the need to maintain excellence.
What Is the Most Common Mental Illness in Athletes?
Student-athlete mental health is often affected by the following conditions:
- Disordered eating patterns
- Social anxiety
- Substance and alcohol use
- Depression symptoms
- Body dysmorphia
An additional example of pressure related to body dysmorphia may involve weight and body image-related concerns. For example, student-athlete mental health might be affected by a coach asking them to gain weight in order to reach a certain weight class for a wrestling match or basketball or football position. They may also be asked to lose weight in order to be able to run faster or farther for a track meet.
Outside of their athletic team, a student-athlete may struggle to fit in with other students. This might involve feeling the pressure to be thinner or appear smaller like their peers, which may bring on patterns of disordered eating.
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Student-Athlete Mental Health: What Can Cause Depression?
The pressure to perform at a top-tier level may often bring on added anxiety—and those thoughts may become mixed with depressive thinking patterns and emotions, such as hopelessness or the fear of making mistakes.
Student-athletes might experience depression for a number of other reasons, including:
- Difficulty maintaining a high level of athletic performance
- Trouble maintaining their academic performance
- Negative self-talk
- Lack of peer support
- Verbal or physical abuse from coaches
- Heckling from spectators
- Sleep deprivation and disorders
What Do Athletes Struggle with Mentally? How Can They Get Help?
Between training, performing, and academics, there is often little time for sleep, maintaining social relationships, and hobbies. This can cause a significant amount of strain, especially if the student-athlete is on scholarship.
Instead of struggling with their mental health concerns in silence, student-athletes should reach out to talk with a mental health professional. Many therapists and counselors have experience treating student-athlete mental health concerns and can help to address many of the specific stressors and issues experienced by these young individuals.