Most high school students participate on a sports team, whether to complete school requirements or to maintain their appreciation for their sport. 7% of high school athletes continue to play a sport through college. Physical activity is very important for our wellbeing and most students are encouraged to partake in sports and physical activity. In addition to staying in shape, sports often provide team support and the lesson of sportsmanship. However, do sports negatively impact the mental health of student athletes?
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The likelihood of student athletes developing a mental illness continues to increase. The pressure of success and constant training places students in difficult positions as they begin to adjust their schedules and lives around their sport. Soon, the sport becomes a large part of a student’s identity, and can even lead to the point of obsession. As an athlete’s goals continue to grow, their willingness to to do nearly anything to achieve those goals will also grow.
A widely perceived stereotype regarding athletes, is the standard body types. Athletes are most commonly thought of to be very muscular and lean, and are most often portrayed that way in the media. This standard has created an understanding that in order to be successful at a sport, an athlete’s body must represent the idolized body type. The pressure of looking a certain way or performing a certain way has led to an increase in eating disorders among athletes. Many athletes will diet or overwork themselves in order to achieve the favored body type, or even because they believe it will dramatically improve their performance. In addition to the harmful behavior, many coaches or teammates won’t find anything wrong with the change in habits. In fact, an athlete who changes their diet and spends more time in the gym or working at their sport is often seen as more dedicated, and the harmful behavior is then praised.
Immense amounts of pressure are often put on student athletes. Not only is there an expectation to succeed at their sport, but there is also an expectation to do well with their schoolwork. High school athletes face hours of school, hours of practice, and hours of homework before they repeat the process again. These pressures often take a toll on the athlete. Anxiety and depression are popular in student athletes, as they struggle with achieving their goals and meeting expectations. The NCAA found that 10-15% of student athletes will show signs of mental illness severe enough to warrant counseling.
MY RESPONSE: WHAT CAN WE DO?
Many colleges across America are beginning to recognize the importance of acknowledging mental health issues among their student athletes. Treatment for mental illness has become more accessible, and colleges are working to de-stigmatize mental illness in order to prevent students from turning away help due to appearance.
- De-stigmatizing mental illness among student athletes
- Providing easier access to psychological help and/or support groups
- Supporting yourself and your teammates and creating a welcoming environment
- Raising awareness in order to make recognizing symptoms of a mental illness easier
I want to be able to make mental health support more accessible among high school teams. De-stigmatizing mental illness and allowing people to accept the normalcy of developing a mental illness is just as important as providing help. Supporting yourself and your teammates is one of the most important parts of participating in a sport. Not only do you want to maintain good physical health, but you also want to maintain good mental health.
HOW WILL YOU HELP?
Please help give me feedback by answering the following questions in the comments:
- Do you participate in a sport, and have you ever noticed a change in behavior among yourself or a teammate while in season versus not?
- If you do play a sport, how often do you practice, and for how long? Do you feel as though you should be practicing more or less?
- Do you feel as though you have easy access to psychological help, should you need it?