athlete, college, student, mental, health, NCAA
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Mental health and its effects on young adults is a growing topic nationwide and throughout college campuses. Nearly one in five college students is affected by mental health illness in his or her lifetime, and college athletes are no exception to this statistic. There are no studies to prove that college athletes suffer more frequently or from worse conditions of mental health effects, however, there is evidence to suggest that student-athletes are not seeking help as frequently as general population students. Due to the combination of stigma tied to mental health illnesses along with the culture of mental toughness surrounding athletics, it seems that now more than ever, student-athletes have a tough time defining a line between what it means to be mentally tough and mentally well. A “culture of sport” in this day promotes mental toughness on the field, which includes being able to hide negative emotions, push through all adversities that are faced and focus only on the game while at their sport, so in turn, not letting outside life matters affect their play. Through this, student athletes face identity impacts as they are often looked at as the vacuum of “I am the athlete” and nothing else.
Over the course of my honors project, I have created opinion-editorial based news features, based on facts and expert statements, that simply begin to break down the complex structures of mental health stigmas and its impact on athletic cultures on college campuses. The aim of this work is to help promote discussion between student-athletes, administrators and other staff members in the athletic departments of colleges and universities, specifically URI. In order to create a culture where athletes feel comfortable, coming forward and seeking help, it is essential to simply begin a conversation about the topic at hand, determine where athletes can turn to and who is there to support them. My hope through this project is that through my words and the information I have presented, The Rhody Chronicles will serve the purpose of just sparking a conversation. Education is the key to creating a real change, and the more information people know, the easier it will be to begin a true process of transformation.
Initially, I expected my project to be smooth sailing. I anticipated to sit down, speak with athletes and staff members, and spark a discussion about the mental health effects that student-athletes can face. I had hoped to spark a conversation throughout my athletic community at URI and allow a platform for student-athletes to speak out. Through my writing of the opinion editorial based news segments, I wanted to help cultivate and inspire a culture that would promote and encourage athletes to feel comfortable speaking out about their mental health struggles.
I had a lot of aspirations at the beginning of this project, however I learned that creating such a shift in a culture that is surrounded by stigma, was easier said than done. There were those who did not want athletes to speak on behalf of my project and there were those, who like me, advocated for the fact that athletes need to know their voices can be heard.
Through speaking with postdoctoral fellow who has focused on sports psychology, Mackenzie Brown, we discussed the issue of identity in athletes along with a strong misunderstanding between promoting mental toughness and remaining mentally well. One focus of our discussions was the fact that athletes and those who view athletes will get lost in “the vacuum of the athlete,” as Mackenzie mentioned. The vacuum, posing as a trap almost, that sucks away all other identities to an athlete, like a student, a friend, a son or daughter, or even what clubs and other organizations they are a part of.
The best way to make a culture shift is to educate those who are currently a part of this culture and encourage them to start communicating about the subject. Moving forward, I hope that programs can be created at URI and other athletic programs nationwide that will allow for athletes to find support, comfort and peace of mind. Please take a sample of my writing, The Rhody Chronicles, for a more in depth look at my work throughout the course of this project.