Mental health in student athletes has long been neglected and the NCAA has come under fire for neglecting this area. In the early part of 2022, for instance, five suicides among student athletes were reported as a mental health crisis.
Students and mental health professionals welcomed the announcement of the first meeting of the NCAA’s Mental Health Advisory Group (MHAG), which was created in 2020 to advise the NCAA on mental health science and policy. The group was initially formed to address mental health issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is apparent that student athletes across America are still facing a wave of problems arising not just from the pandemic but also from long hours, physical injuries and pressure to perform from peers, coaches and colleges.
The Importance of Mental Health in Student Athletes
As with all young people, mental health issues in student athletes can have a long-term impact on their lives. Those who suffer from anxiety, depression and stress as teens are more likely to suffer from metabolic diseases, such as heart disease or high blood pressure, later in life. They also tend to fall behind on schoolwork and miss more days, which can have a direct impact on their future employment and career prospects. They are also 1.84 times more likely to start smoking and almost 17 times as likely to experience suicidal ideation. For those on athletic scholarships, the effects can be even worse; if performance drops, their scholarship — and consequently, their status as a college student — can be at risk.
It is important for anyone with mental health issues to look after their mental health. However, developing teens are particularly vulnerable. They lack the experience to deal with these problems, which means these issues can follow them throughout their lives. For this reason, it’s especially important that adults are there to provide support and encourage the development of behaviors that improve mental health — which is what the NCAA aims to do with its latest initiatives.
The NCAA’s Plan for Teen Mental Health Needs
The NCAA acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in mental exhaustion, depression and anxiety, and these problems are not going away. Therefore, they are asking schools to facilitate environments that reinforce physical and mental health within athletics. The MHAG is there to assist with this, ensuring students have access to the appropriate resources to get help when needed.
The most promising aspect of this new initiative is that the MHAG is made up primarily of mental health professionals and scientific representatives from relevant fields. Members will also be drawn from groups of NCAA students to give a voice to these athletes so they can provide feedback and represent the views of others at their schools. This gives the initiative some credibility. However, the initial consultation period will last until the MHAG concludes reports in 2023, and a final document won’t be presented until January 2024, so the effectiveness of the efforts will not be known for some time.
How Team Sports Can Benefit Mental Health
Although the high pressure of competitive sports does have its challenges from a mental health point of view, team sports overall are a benefit to mental health. In fact, recent studies have concluded that the suicide rate among those competing is lower than that among students in general. Team sports provide boosts to your mental health in several ways, including the following.
When you participate in a team sport, it gives you a positive view of your body image and improves physical skills, boosting your overall self-confidence. Positive feedback from teammates also helps, although it’s important that your team provides a good environment for this; some teams can in fact provide a toxic environment for some individuals if not well managed.
Isolation is generally bad for your mental health, leading to feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. Participating in a team sport is an excellent way to avoid this and spend time building bonds with others. Socializing isn’t just limited to the time you spend training or competing; many teams eat out together or socialize in bars and clubs.
Competing within a team brings motivation that extends beyond the sport. Those who regularly participate in team sports find they are more motivated in their work as well as in their home lives, becoming more likely to maintain family bonds and relationships.
Greater Life Satisfaction
The increased self-confidence and motivation lead those who play team sports to become more satisfied with their lives. The feelings of accomplishment that come from being in a team can balance out problems elsewhere in life. This is because humans are, at our core, a cooperative species and are more comfortable when part of a cohesive team.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
Most team sports, like any form of exercise, involve developing a level of fitness that boosts the cardiovascular system. When your cardiovascular system is healthy, blood flow to your brain is improved, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of stress, anxiety and depression. And, of course, feeling fit and healthy will always make you happier.
Take the First Steps to Restore Your Mental Health
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may find yourself suffering from mental health issues that negatively impact your life. As well as genetic factors, life events beyond your control can cause even the healthiest and fittest to need help.
Whether you’re suffering from depression or anxiety or addiction to substances such as alcohol or drugs, the professionals here at FHE Health are here to help. Whether you require inpatient or outpatient treatment, medical detox or counseling in a group or individual setting, our team has the expertise you need. Call us today or contact us online to take the first steps to restore your mental health.