Letter to the Editor: Athletes should talk mental health

April 27, 2016

“Mental toughness” is a term that every athlete has heard consistently throughout their sports career; meaning that an athlete must remain level headed through failures, and to not be afraid to go up and fail again.

It is commonly assumed that this toughness carries on into “regular” life, and that athletes don’t get depressed or suffer from mental illness. Being an athlete here at UW-Whitewater, I know that this stereotype is far from the truth.

Balancing schoolwork, planning our futures, practicing almost everyday and somehow leaving time for a social life can seem almost impossible. The sleepless nights, the hours of homework and missing class, while having to deal with personal issues that come along, adds up fast. I am here to let every athlete out there know that it is ok to not be “mentally tough” sometimes, and that it is ok to talk about it.

During my time here at UW-W, I have been blessed to be part of such a great sport culture: great facilities, coaches, trainers and amazing tradition. But one thing is missing: mental health awareness. There is little information given on the health services here on campus, and even less awareness to help erase the stigma of being an athlete and being able to talk about our mental health. An article published on the NCAA website from 2014 caught my attention.

“College students – including student-athletes – are not immune to struggles with mental well-being. About 30 percent of the 195,000 respondents to a recent American College Health Association (ACHA) survey reported have felt depressed in the last 12 months, and 50 percent reported having felt overwhelming anxiety during the same period.”

Mental health is a serious issue, but sometimes it isn’t treated as such because it isn’t something we can see by looking at a person. Being an athlete, I have been told countless times to go see my athletic trainer if I have any sort of injury or if I am feeling sore from a workout. Mental health has gone mostly unmentioned throughout my college career. Why is that?

Thirty percent of athletes suffer from depression. If I took my team of 20 girls, six of us would be statistically depressed. This is something that should be far from ignored.

Mental health should be talked about from team to team, as well as the organization as a whole. Your team should be a place of trust and comfort and a place where you should feel supported by your teammates and coaches.  The awareness starts with the team, but it shouldn’t stop there. A better relationship with the health services and the athletic teams needs to be developed. Athletes should not only know that there is someone here to listen to them, but they should feel comfortable enough to seek help when they are not feeling “mentally tough.”

It is time for the university to acknowledge that the health of our athletes goes beyond the injuries we can see.

Haley Morelli
Social Work BA