Under Pressure: Student Athletes & Mental Health

African American teen football playerCollege requires a substantial amount of time in a student’s life. Balancing your time to attend classes, and the time needed to study and complete coursework will add up. It requires hours of time and complete focus to fully dive in and understand the material you are learning. Athletics also call for a large amount of time. Going to practice and memorizing plays are necessary when preparing to compete against other teams. So, what happens when we combine the schedules of a student athlete?

What we find is an intense and rigorous schedule. Oftentimes, student athletes are going to class and then straight to practice.This is where we find the common “class, practice, study, eat, sleep, repeat” schedule. There are some benefits of being a student athlete, such as involvement in extracurriculars, meeting new people and time-management skills. But, what happens to the mental health of these students? Increasingly, we are seeing student athletes’ mental health suffer in exchange for their participation.

Depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, anxiety disorder, eating disorders, personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are a few common mental health issues that student athletes fall victim to. A study focusing on student athletes participating in the NCAA sanctioned intercollegiate athletic programs found that between 10 and 15 percent of student athletes (2 percent  higher than their non-athletic counter parts) are more likely to experience psychological issues severe enough to warrant counseling (Watson & Kissinger, 2007). These disorders are due to various stressors.

Per a PhD Sport Psychology article, a large stressor for student athletes is the pressure, in various forms, that they face. The pressure to perform and execute in their sport, the pressure to maintain academic standing in order to participate, and also pressure from their courses to meet deadlines for assignments are present. Pressure is also driven by the physical requirements they need to maintain. In order to maintain physical expectations many athletes suffer from eating disorders in order to gain weight or lose weight.