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Start Talking about Student-Athlete Mental Health

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Stonehill chapter.

***Trigger Warning*** Mental health, suicide, depression and other heavy related topics

There is a famous quote that has been circling around after Katie Meyer’s death in March that says “we have to put the person before the student and the athlete otherwise we are at risk of losing all three.”

From 2006-2015, 35 of 477 NCAA athlete deaths were suicides

In the last 4 years we remember Evan Hansen, Morgan Rogers, Tyler Hilinski, Cameron Burrell, just this past month, Katie Meyer, and just this past week, Robert Martin. There are many more that are not listed and even more who are suffering in silence.  

College athletes are seen as “having it all”. But what exactly does this mean? Receiving free gear, sponsorships, the joy of competing in a stadium full of fans, the pressure of dieting, constant physical demands, the fear of never being good enough, balancing rigorous schedules with classes, lifts, practices, homework, conditioning, games, travel, etc. Is this what we really define as “having it all”?  

On March 21, 2022, Harry Miller, an Ohio State Division 1 football player medically retired from football due to mental health. He is an example of one of the “fortunate” ones who had their cry for help heard. He is now planning on pursuing his Masters degree in engineering at Ohio State.  

Surprisingly, the media has not connected the dots and linked all of these unfortunate events together. In their eyes, each loss is just a new tragic story to be told, then they move on to the next. These events are not unrelated and student-athlete mental health must have more light shined on it. 

Not only to check in on my student-athlete friends, but also to conduct my own research on the topic, I created a completely anonymous student-athlete mental health survey. I sent this to friends across all NCAA divisions, male and female, who play all different sports. Below are some of the results: 

When asked how many hours they dedicate on average to their sport a week… 

  • 43% of participants said they spend 15-20 hours a week dedicated to their sport
  • 43% of participants said they spend over 20 hours a week dedicated to their sport

Note: College athletics is a part-time job in addition to being full-time students.

When asked to rate their current mental health on a scale of 1 being terrible and 10 being amazing…

  • The 3 most common answers were 3,7 and 8 
  • Total, 52.3% were between 6-10 and 47.6% were between 1-5
  • Nobody answered 1, 9 or 10

When asked how the participant believes college athletics contributes to their mental health given the options: Positively, Mainly Positive, Some Positive/Some Negative, Mainly Negative and Negatively…

  • 90.5% said Some Positive/Some Negative
  • 9.5% said negatively
  • Nobody answered positively, mainly positive, or mainly negative

With the results from the last question in mind- when asked “have you ever thought about leaving your sport?”…

  • 14.3% said No, never
  • 61.9% said Yes, but I would never do it
  • 23.8% said Yes, I might

When asked what the major stressors were that athletics contributed to their lives…

  • 76.2% said the busy schedule 
  • 76.2% said the fear of failure/ never being good enough to meet standards
  • 66.7% said the fear of not performing well

The results from the last two questions are concerning because they are likely the same primary pressures and internal struggles that most of those fallen athletes faced as well. This is where we need to do better. How do we relieve these pressures from these athletes while continuing to encourage them and making sure they know their value? 

To get closer to an answer to this question, I asked the participants “what is something that makes you happy at school?”, nearly 86% of participants mentioned their friends in their response. This shows that YOU have a daily impact on your friends, whether they are athletes or not. If you have a friend who you suspect may be struggling, find out what they like to do and spend time with them doing that. Be PRESENT.

The final question I asked in the survey was “What is one thing that you would change about college athletics if given the chance?”. Some of the answers were:

  • “the stigma that playing through an injury makes you tougher and a better player when in reality you’re just putting your health at severe risk. More days off are needed.”
  • “The constant feedback of saying we should be doing better, or running faster. It almost feels like there is something that isn’t good enough.”
  • “Supporting athletes more financially and mentally, and being more available to athletes to respond to their needs”
  • “I think there should be more conversation about mental health among athletes. And people should have more resources that athletes can use to help them perform in the classroom and on the field.”
  • “The idea that everything is handed to student-athletes and they don’t have to work hard”
  • “The pressure from coaches and no free time”
  • “The pressure of success 100% of the time”
  • “Have more meetings about mental health and do more mental health improving activities with the team.”
  • “The stigma that athletes have; at my school and similar schools athletes are automatically viewed as bad people”
  • “A psychologists for each team for an outlet”
  • 2 participants responded “Having more accommodations”
  • 4 participants responded something along the lines of having more flexibility/more free time/ less time commitment

I hope this article provides a little more insight into the daily struggles of student-athletes and provokes more conversation and discussion about the role we must play in keeping these student-athletes healthy and safe. 

Below are some helpful resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1(800)273-8255

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline 1(800)662-4357

Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ Youth 1(866)-488-7386 






Abby Ahearn

Stonehill '24

Abby Ahearn is a senior at Stonehill College, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Business degree, with a marketing major and entrepreneurship minor. She is also a member of the NCAA Division 1 Stonehill Women's Lacrosse Team. She is passionate about traveling, any activity outdoors, country music, and finding the good in everything.