The college years can be a stressful time, and it is not unusual for this stress to reach the level of impairing a student’s functioning. College student-athletes face not only the same stressors as do their non-athlete peers but must also cope with stressors unique to their role as athletes. So, it’s not surprising that several studies have suggested that the incidence of psychological concerns among student-athletes is at least as high, if not higher, than non-athletes. In fact, the incidence of some mental health concerns, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders may be higher among student-athletes than non-athletes.
Below are some stressors unique to the student-athlete experience:
- Demanding training schedules
- Balancing academic and athletic demands
- Difficulty developing social relationships based on rigorous schedule and training demands
- Frequent travel
- Competitive stress
- The coach-athlete relationship
- Competition with teammates
- Managing the transition out of college athletics
- Media pressure
- Overtraining, staleness, and burnout
Coping with these stressors can put significant demands on a student-athlete’s ability to cope. The emotional distress that can result may be exacerbated in student-athletes because they often feel that admitting to emotional problems is a sign of weakness, a view that can sometimes be fostered within the culture of sports. Nevertheless, many student-athletes acknowledge that the stress they experience negatively affects them, both inside and outside their sport. For instance, in their book on stress in college athletics, authors James Humprhey, Deborah Yow, and William Bowden report that about 40% of male athletes and over 50% of female athletes stated that the stress associated with their sport participation significantly affected their mental or emotional health.
Furthermore, the demands of college athletics make student-athletes more susceptible to certain mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance use are highly common amongst student-athletes. If you or someone you know are a student-athlete struggling with mental health, check out these resources to get help.
- University Counseling Services
You do not need to face this alone. If you would like to talk with a counselor about your concerns, make an appointment to come and see us.
- VCU Sport Psychology
VCU’s dedicated Sport Psychologist, Dr. Dana Blackmer, Ph.D., is available to help student-athletes negotiate these challenges successfully, as well as to learn specific mental skills to build mental toughness to enhance their sports performance.
- Identity-Based Support Groups
You aren’t just an athlete. Many student-athletes hold identities that contribute to their experience in college. UCS holds support groups, such as Asian Voices, Black Voices, and Rainbow Group for students with shared identities to get together and support those who hold identities similar to their own.
- Mental health in student-athletes from the NCAA
- Read current research on student-athlete mental health, and learn how to help student-athletes who are struggling
- Keep up on the newest research on student-athletes
- Resources focused on athlete mental health
Professional Athletes and Mental Health
Remember that you are not alone in your struggle. Many athletes at a collegiate and professional level have spoken out about their mental health struggles.
- Brandon Marshall’s article on Borderline Personality Disorder
- Kevin Love’s article on panic attacks and mental health
- Mary Cain’s video about body image and eating disorders in sport
- Liz Cambage’s article about taking a mental health break
- Michael Phelps’ article on depression and the pandemic
- Victoria Garrick’s TEDTalk on student-athlete mental health