Being a high school student can be challenging. Between the increased workload, grades, homework, having a social life, relationships, and social media, and figuring out “what’s next” after their senior year, it’s a whole lot of pressure.
And how about being a student-athlete to the mix? That adds another heaping portion of stress and anxiety, doesn’t it?
It’s no wonder an estimated 31.9% of adolescents have an anxiety disorder.
Sure, playing a sport you love is enjoyable and can be an excellent escape from the academic side of high school. But unfortunately, participating in and being good at a sport in high school takes a toll on student-athletes’ mental health.
So why is the mental health of student-athletes suffering so badly? Let’s take a closer look at the most common reasons high school athletes may be struggling with mental health concerns.
3 Common Reasons Leading to Mental Health Struggles in Student-Athletes
Every day is a balancing act for student-athletes, especially high-performing athletes looking to secure a college scholarship. Juggling training, games or meets, academics, having a social life, and regular day-to-day responsibilities is a lot for them to handle. The reality is, eventually, a ball is going to drop. And many times, that ball is one student-athletes may neglect – their mental health.
1. The Elevated State of Competition in High School Sports
High school sports aren’t like they used to be. There are many parents and grandparents today who participated in several different sports while in high school. And many times, they’d even take a season off to focus on academics, enjoy high school, and rest their bodies.
Nowadays, many high school athletes focus on one sport. They train for it all year long to be the best they can be. High school coaches often adapt college-level training methods. They do this to help student-athletes improve to the best of their abilities or to simply keep up with the rest of the athletes.
In other words, high school sports have become more professionalized. Many student-athletes train and train and train to be the best, just like a professional athlete would do. But unlike professionals who focus on one sport as a career, student-athletes have a lot more to worry about than just being the top dog in their sport.
It’s not difficult to imagine that this can have a negative effect on student-athletes and their mental health.
2. Pressure to Perform Well
While not every student-athlete will have a college scholarship on the line every time they step onto the field, there’s still a lot of pressure to perform well once you reach the high school level.
Many student-athletes are under immense pressure to do their best and win. Even if coaches and parents don’t intentionally pressure them, teen athletes know how much time, energy, and money has gone into helping them perfect their sport. That’s why many student-athletes continue playing their sport well after they’ve lost interest in it.
If a student-athlete does choose to prioritize their mental health and quit a sport they no longer enjoy, there’s a good chance they’ll feel guilty or like they’re letting their parents, coach, and the team down.
3. Tying Performance and Injuries to Self-Worth and Identity
When a teen or young adult specializes and excels in a given sport, everyone knows it. Quite often, whatever sport they play becomes part of their identity. If they have an off day and don’t play as well or get injured, their self-worth is affected.
Not being able to play due to injury or having future performance affected after the injury heals can be devastating to a student-athlete’s mental health. They may end up feeling like a failure, less-than, or not worth anything if they can’t perform as well as they used to.
Warning Signs of Poor Mental Health in Student-Athletes
One of the largest barriers to improving student-athletes’ mental health is stigma. Elite high school athletes may look at admitting something is wrong or asking for help as a sign of weakness.
They also may not be able to recognize that there is a problem. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize the warning signs of mental health distress in student-athletes.
Some of the most common warning signs a student-athlete may need help include:
- Mood swings
- Social isolation
- Sleep pattern changes
- Changes in appetite and eating habits
- Long stretches of apathy
- Lowered academic performance
- Inexplicable decline in sports performance (also called overtraining)
If any of the above resonate with your teen athlete, now’s a good time to start looking for help from a qualified mental health professional.
How to Help Student-Athletes Improve Their Mental Health
Whether you are a coach, parent, friend, or family member of a student-athlete, you are a valuable member of their support network. If they realize it or not, they rely on you for emotional support, and they need you to be there, listen, and understand without judgment.
- Encourage them: One of the most important things you can do to help a high school athlete struggling with mental health concerns is to encourage them. Encourage them to educate themselves about depression, anxiety, and other issues. By openly discussing any mental health struggles with them without judgment, you make it less “weird” and more “normal.” In essence, you’re helping reduce the stigma.
- Do other things: Don’t just spend time with them in training. It’s essential to do things together that don’t revolve around their particular sport so you can build a valuable connection. This connection can establish trust and facilitate meaningful conversations about any struggles they’re having.
- Value their mental health: Of course, you’re going to emphasize how important their physical health is. As a student-athlete, this goes without saying. But it’s also crucial you inquire about how they’re doing mentally. Keeping a close eye on this can help you recognize when they need a rest or when they need to talk to you or someone else.
- Get help: You wouldn’t expect a student-athlete to improve their mental health on their own. (At least, you shouldn’t.) Mental health concerns aren’t something anyone chooses to deal with. They are serious, diagnosable illnesses that require professional treatment. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to seek professional therapy.
High-Quality Therapy for Student-Athletes
At Dayrise Wellness in Lombard, IL, we ensure your son or daughter gets the best possible treatment. We only see teens and young adults, which means your child is getting specialized help.
Our “best match” promise ensures your son or daughter gets matched with a licensed therapist best suited to their needs and an individualized treatment plan to help them thrive.
If you are the parent of a student-athlete and looking for a therapist in the Chicago area, we’re here for you. Don’t wait to get your son or daughter the help they need. Contact us today, and together, as part of their support network, we’ll get your student-athlete feeling more like themselves before you know it.