Lack of mental health assistance brings up concerns for student-athletes

Mental health epidemic calls for action among student-athletes across all NCAA divisions

More stories from Brittany Farr



Thirty percent of student-athletes self-reported feeling overwhelmed across all divisions, according to the NCAA.

Imagine a place where every sense is heightened: You’re physically confident, in the best shape you’ve ever been, exceeding the goals you’ve poured yourself into and surrounded by people you love. You feel unstoppable.

This past weekend I experienced every single one of those heightened feelings. After an intense mid-season three-day swim meet, however, I hit the pillow at precisely 1:15 a.m. My restless body cramped, and my mind craved a moment of complete stillness.

Before I knew it, my 6:30 a.m. alarm went off, signaling to me it was time to complete an unfinished paper due at noon, brew some coffee to keep myself from falling asleep in my 8 a.m. class and begin studying for an exam later in the week.

Despite my headache, I plugged in my headphones on my walk to class, taking advantage of the little time I had to recharge to my favorite tunes. I pushed out the thought of 6:00 a.m. practice waiting for me the next morning.

Despite being at the Division III level, where the “student” part of “student-athlete” is prioritized, I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the intense demand in and out of the classroom for my teammates and myself.

With two practices per day for many sports, time management becomes absolutely necessary. With 15 to 18 credits of class plus work and other activities, sleep doesn’t always come out on top as a priority.

In a 2015 report, the NCAA stated the average student-athlete among all divisions reported six hours and 16 minutes of sleep on a typical in-season weeknight, a number that has been lowering over the past five years.

According to the University Health Center of the University of Georgia, the recommended amount of sleep per night is eight hours. Research shows students who receive six or fewer hours have a lower GPA and report feelings of anxiety, racing thoughts and trouble listening.

According to the same NCAA report, 30 percent of student-athletes self-reported feeling intractably overwhelmed during the past month, a noticeable increase from previous years.

Athletes at this level are not only struggling with time management, but many are battling real mental health disorders. As a team captain, my heart hurts thinking about the mental health struggles my teammates are fighting on top of all of their responsibilities.

“Mental illness is probably one of the greatest silent epidemics in our country. It’s a public health issue and now we’re seeing it more and more in student-athletes,” said Timothy Neal, the assistant athletic director for sports medicine at Syracuse University, in an ESPN article. “What is unique about the student-athlete is they have stressors and expectations of them unlike other students that could trigger a psychological concern or exacerbate an existing mental health issue.”

If we have all of these physical trainers and academic resources offered to us as student-athletes, why don’t we have someone who checks on our mental health?

According to a study done by the NCAA, about 40 percent of student-athletes who sought help for a mental health issue reported high levels of satisfaction with the care they received from their team or college personnel.

The NCAA stated they “strive to improve access to quality mental healthcare with the goal of creating a culture where care seeking for mental health issues is as normative as care seeking for physical injuries.”

Division I Michigan football player Will Heininger said he believes it’s the athletic department’s responsibility for the wellbeing of their student-athletes.

“They require a lot of them, they give them a lot of opportunity, and they should want and it should be the first priority to have healthy, stable student-athletes,” Heininger said.

It’s important to me to see my teammates and other athletes supported not only academically and physically by the university, but mentally as well. The university should do something to fix that.