The Stigma of Athletes and Mental Health

James Madison University (JMU) has canceled the rest of its softball season after its catcher, Lauren Bennett, sadly took her own life. The sophomore was named Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week the Monday before and was a major factor in the team’s success last year in the Women’s College World Series. She was only 20. The more saddening news is that since March, we have lost three collegiate-level student-athletes to suicide. 

There is a common belief that mental health doesn’t affect athletes as much as any other person. This stigma has spread, and often leads to concerns about issues such as depression and anxiety being pushed aside because there is “no way” an athlete can be under such stress. Athletes, and especially student-athletes, are put on a pedestal of perfection where they are expected to be nothing less than the best and that someone of such strength is not subject to such pain. In reality, everyone is human and faces everyday struggles. 

Many student-athletes deal with anxiety-related problems in the sport they are supposed to love and in turn, it makes playing it even harder. Whether it is performance, injury, or team-related, many athletes face stress that at times can even turn into depression. Others face diagnosable mental illnesses that are often set aside due to their sport. Either or, it’s unacceptable that their problems are set aside because “Oh, they’re a student-athlete, they should be able to deal with it” or that they need to “toughen up and get over it.” Things need to change. 

Sarah Schulze and Katie Meyer are the other two we have lost since March. Schulze passed on April 13th and was a track and field athlete for the University of Wisconsin. Meyer passed on March 1st and was a volleyball player at Stanford University. This year has tripled the annual average for women student-athletes. This could have been avoided. 

 These grievances are not only limited to the collegiate level, because most of these problems start from a young age. Countless numbers of young athletes lose their passion for their sport before they even get to high school. 

If you or a loved one has been struggling with mental health, please reach out for help. There are multiple hotlines available for those in need, one of them being the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. At Key West High School, we have many counselors that are more than willing to help. 

Katie Meyer 2000-2022

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