Important Capital Region Focus: Student-Athlete Mental Health
Being a student-athlete is not easy at any level. Competing in a sport with the best of your peers can be extremely challenging, physically and mentally. High school student-athletes are going through intense bodily chemical changes as they grow and compete at the same time. Collegiate student-athletes are usually on the back end of the growth spurt but most are living on their own for the first time and are faced with brand new expectations, challenges and temptations.
The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, in the United States. Mental health is such a subjective topic and so personal, it has been buried at the bottom of our day-to-day issues, hardly talked about in society, until now. Over the past decade, a greater awareness has placed on mental health and its challenges for ordinary people in everyday life. In addition, there has been a greater emphasis on this subject by the NCAA and on the high school sports level.
In recent months, we have seen the suicide of two prominent female student-athletes. Days ago, James Madison University canceled the remainder of its softball season after the April 25th death of student-athlete Lauren Bernett. The late college pitcher played a huge role in the program's 2021 Women's College World Series run. The Western District Medical Examiner's Office in Virginia told cnn.com Tuesday Lauren Bernett died by suicide.
Back on March 1st, Stanford University star soccer player Katie Meyer died by suicide, her mother told NBC's "Today" show during an emotional interview. Meyer, a senior who helped secure the 2019 NCAA championship title for the Cardinals, was found deceased in her dorm room, according to the university. These are stories that no parents want to tell. Why? How? These are questions that are never answered and pain that never goes away.
Suicide is a result in only a small percentage of the of mental health issues involving student-athletes. Why is this such a big problem now? Having worked in Division I collegiate athletics for over two decades, I can tell you that the expectations and pressures put on student-athletes today are greater than they ever have been and it's not all because of the colleges or high schools. The hope of scholarships by parents has intensified to the point where rich parents are going to jail for bribing their kid's way onto collegiate teams. Social pressures have only grown with the 24-hour media. Now messing up in a high school game can be seen by millions in seconds.
How do people think these factors are going to effect young adults ranging from 17 to 24-years old? The NCAA and high school athletic associations across the country are begging for more funding and support in this area. With first-hand knowledge, I can tell you that the Section II high school athletic directors and the athletic directors, as well as coaches at UAlbany, Siena, RPI and Union, take Mental Health Awareness very seriously. Like anything else, the help provided is in-line with the resources allocated. More needs to be done to prevent to help prevent the next tragedy. Be proactive. Never wait until it's too late. Get help. Give help.