My name is Allie Richter (she/her). I am a freshman here on campus majoring in psychology and minoring in counseling. Helping people with their mental health and creating more awareness around it is something I am deeply passionate about. I am also someone who struggles with depression and anxiety and feel that at times, I can’t talk about my journey because of how stigmatized mental health is in our society. That is why I created this column to talk to different people on campus about their journeys with mental health and to show people that they are not alone and that we as a community should talk more about mental health.
This summer as I watched the Olympics and saw Simone Biles step down, needing to take time for her mental health, I began to realize that even gold medal athletes aren’t immune to mental illness. We put professional athletes on pedestals and see them as invincible, always working and never dealing with their own personal struggles. But in reality, many athletes struggle with things like depression or anxiety, which we have seen more and more athletes come out with and share their stories. From Simone Biles to Michael Phelps, these athletes want to shed light on the reality of being an athlete and that even they are fighting their own battles.
Although student-athletes don’t have the same amount of pressure as Olympic ones, they still have to deal with balancing schoolwork on top of playing a sport at a higher level full time while attempting to maintain a social life which can cause immense amounts of stress and other mental health concerns. We never question an athlete needing to take time and seek help when they injure themselves physically, but as soon as they need to step away to tend to their mental health, it is perceived that something is wrong with them or that they aren’t “tough enough.” Being an athlete holds the notion that you are a strong individual and don’t need help from people. I think this idea of how athletes are portrayed hurts the ones that do struggle. Everyone should feel safe to reach out and get help, even if you are an athlete. Athletes shouldn’t be viewed as cowardly for seeking help, instead, they should be seen as brave for being willing to get the help they need and take time away from their sport.
I decided to talk with an athlete and one of my friends here on campus about her journey with dealing with mental health as a college athlete. Lauren Rodriguez is a freshman occupational therapy major and plays on the tennis team.
Many, if not all sports have a competitive nature to them, and this is what often causes the pressure athletes feel. Lauren said how she feels pressure, “Not only on myself but also pressure from my teammates, coaches and family to do well.”
She continued to say how this also tends to affect her self-confidence and comparison since a lot of her sport is comparing herself to her teammates. This is an aspect that I didn’t even think of when talking to her about being a student-athlete. Not only do the athletes put pressure on themselves, there are also so many other aspects of their lives that add to this pressure. So it doesn’t surprise me when we see so many athletes have to take a break because of all the different areas of pressure adding up.
I was curious as to how she dealt with these difficult moments while playing and her main focus was resetting her mindset.
She said, “If I notice I am going too fast, I go to the back of the court and take a breath,” she said. “I use distractions like retying my shoes or fixing my hair to allow for me to slow down and refocus.”
These are simple yet effective reset tools that anyone can use to be more mindful of their own bodies.
As someone who is not an athlete and has never played sports at a super competitive level, I wanted to better understand the difficulties and the stress that can come from doing a sport full time. If you are an athlete, reach out to your teammates and let them know that you are there to support them. That small gesture can do so much for a teammate that is struggling.