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A Cry for Help: The Mental Health Crisis in Collegiate Athletes

This article contains triggering topics about suicide, anxiety, and depression. Reader discretion is advised.

On March 1st, 2022, Kathryn Meyer, Stanford’s goalkeeper, died by suicide. On April 24th, 2022, Sarah Schulze, University of Wisconsin Track and Cross Country died by suicide. On April 25th, 2022, Lauren Bernett, James Madison University softball catcher, died by suicide.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the twelfth leading cause of death in the United States. In college-aged students, suicide is the second.

Being a college athlete means you’ve got to be the best. Athletes struggle with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, overtraining, and sleeping disorders. College athletes are training at a guideline of twenty hours per week, set by the NCAA, however, most athletes are reporting forty hours of practice. Offering little time for academic and social activities as well as maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. College students are facing stress and challenges when entering into newfound independence. Guidance is needed.

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine designed a panel of experts to discuss how athletes struggle with psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, body image issues, sleep disorders, and stress. Athletes were noted to have personality issues such as perfectionism, which is an excess demand for obtaining a high goal of performance. This correlates with negative self-evaluations while trying to achieve the impossible “perfection”.  These goals can often cause anxiety and lead to depression when the goal is not met. These issues are long-standing issues and can carry out for the rest of the athlete’s life.

Morgan Rodgers, a Duke University lacrosse player, suffered a knee injury going into her sophomore year which caused a twelve-month recovery. During this time, she struggled with the sudden change in her life. Her self-worth plunged, she felt as if she “wasn’t living up to her expectations”.  She hid this, putting a smile on her face to her family, friends, and her teammates. In July of 2019, Morgan committed suicide. Donna and Aberle Rodgers started Morgan’s Message to advocate mental health and elevate Morgan’s story to allow others to be a catalyst for change. And she’s not the only one. Many of other families have done the same, sharing their lost loved ones' stories to support mental health in student-athletes.

What can schools do to help their student-athletes? Provide suicide prevention training for students, coaches, and faculty. By equipping students and faculty with resources and knowledge for key symptoms can bring awareness and lead to prevention. Have mental health services for athletes whether in person or online twenty-four hours. Dr. Asha Patton Smith, a child adolescent psychiatrist, recommended: “bringing in mental health providers and bring them in as part of the team”.  Being exposed to it can not only allow students to come forward when needed, but it gives mental health a chance of being prioritized and normalized. Suicide is preventable, and help is out there. 

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Tags: mental health health anxiety depression sports training disorder NCAA suicide Morgan's Message trigger sleep lacrosse student negative


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