MENTAL HEALTH IN STUDENT-ATHLETES

PEYTON MEISNER, TRUMPET GUEST WRITER

Anne Hargis knows the mental stress of being a student athlete.

The worries: Playing time, winning, traveling, big games, and a lack of time for homework, the 2020 graduate and former Wartburg women’s soccer player listed.

“A lot of student athletes are afraid to talk about their mental health and how they are feeling because it is such a personal issue, and that is not good. Student athletes should feel comfortable sharing how they are feeling,” Hargis said.

There’s a lot of stress surrounding countless student athletes at Wartburg. The topic has also been highlighted in recent years in studies and national reports.

Injuries also add stress. Ryan Stulken, a redshirt senior on the men’s basketball team, felt a lot of pressure mentally coming back from a knee injury that wiped out the majority of his junior season. Stulken received a medical redshirt during the 2018-19 season before returning during the 2019-20 season. 

RYAN STULKEN (#22) RECEIVED A MEDICAL REDSHIRT HIS JUNIOR SEASON DUE TO A KNEE INJURY. PHOTO BY WARTBURG COLLEGE MARKETING & COMMUNICATION.

“When I first came [back] after surgery, the injury was still in my mind when I was playing. It was stressful and it took awhile for me to get back to my old self on the court,” Stulken admitted.

A 2018 study of collegiate athletes conducted by Psychology Today found that 24% met the criteria of “clinically significant” depression, a sign that has become a reality for many student athletes. Many student athletes who struggle with mental health problems do not share their feelings or exhibit signs of mental health problems. 

One example of this was Tyler Hilinski, a star quarterback at Washington State who took his own life in 2018, months after leading the team to a victory in the 2017 Holiday Bowl. After his death, many details about Hilinski came out and those closest to him. Washington State’s Head Coach Mike Leach said Hilinksi did not show any signs of mental health issues and did not reach out to him for help in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s not easy to detect how a student athlete’s mental well-being might be. Males also seem to be more guarded when talking about mental health issues,” Jason Steege, Wartburg men’s head golf coach and assistant men’s basketball coach, said. “If any student athlete at Wartburg needs assistance or wants to reach out to someone, I would encourage them to contact the campus ministry office or the Pathways center.”

The NCAA has begun to focus their attention on student athletes’ mental health and started implementing ways to help student athletes. In 2013, Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, declared mental health as the No. 1 health and safety concern in the NCAA. In 2016, the NCAA posted 200 pages of mental health “best practices” on its website. Any of the thousands of student-athletes in the NCAA’s three divisions now have a place to look if they need help mentally, which is a crucial first step to start getting help and a potential sign that more research and efforts to focus more on student athletes’ mental health is going to continue and expand.

Wartburg students seeking mental health assistance can contact the Pathways Center, located on the third floor of the Vogel Library, or Spiritual Life and Campus Ministry. 

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