Dealing With Mental Illness As A Student Athlete

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“I wasn’t doing the things that I should have been doing to maintain my mental well-being and once you start getting into a spiral of secrecy and masking your emotions and running away then it is exactly that; you spiral down and it’s incredibly difficult to stop.” This quote was said by Clarke Carlisle, a former Professional footballer, who has dealt with depression for 20 years. Over the years the increase of mental illness among high school students, in particular “Student Athletes” has drastically increased. Mental illness has the ability to change one’s performance in the classroom and in their respective sport. However, mental illness clearly gives insight into the rough realities high school athletes face on a day to day basis. These harsh realities are evident through the balancing of sport and school, maintaining relationships, and post secondary decisions.

When it comes to balancing sports with school, I find that it is important for me to maintain good grades to keep up my GPA, just like it is to play at a high intensity everytime I step on the field. Maintaining the balance requires making tough decisions. Recently I was forced to make a big decision. Over the summer, my team and I competed in the Ontario Cup and won, securing our ticket to Nationals in British Columbia. With Nationals occuring in October during the school year, I made the decision to stay behind. I did this because, I felt as if getting ahead in work, and making sure I excel in the classroom was just as important than playing soccer in British Columbia for two weeks; school just edges out a little more. Mentally, this affected me greatly as I opted out on one of the biggest sporting opportunities, a canadian soccer player my age can experience. At home, and around friends I was quiet, as I couldn’t deal with my decision just yet.

Oddly, many student-athletes are also forced to experience this at one point in their career, which may also affect their mental health. It is evident that one of the main concerns around mental illness among student-athletes is that, this epidemic will not just affect their success in academics or athletics but instead their well-being, as it did with mine. Due to the seriousness of my sport there are many requirements and extra activities that I am required to do. Some include a strict 3500 calorie meal plan, 2-day physio meets, and 4-day training sessions. Having been on this training schedule for 2-years, I have changed as a person in the sense that I have never been satisfied with my level of training, and physique. Through this, I always try to be the best and always aim to train the hardest. Overtime I realized that this dissatisfaction that I see in myself, has presented me with much anxiety in the sense that, “I won’t be as fast as this guy, or stronger than the next”. Research shows that Males who are of the average weight class wanted to be larger, and vice versa.

Having been giving the opportunity to attend St. Michael’s College, I have been giving the chance to learn balance in my sport and in school through goodness, discipline, and knowledge. Over my 4 year stay at this school, I have had to opportunity to meet with many athletes who have attended and athletes enrolled now. I have also met many teachers who helped motivate me to keep a straight mind and keep working hard when it comes to my academics and in the sport. Teachers such as, Mr. Lance my junior soccer coach, who truly inspired me to find who I really am on the field and Mr. Hill, my grade 10 religion teacher who at first presented me with trouble, but through much realization was really pushing me in the classroom to work my hardest, and realize life isn’t just going to present you with anything, you have to work for it. From these two teachers, I was truly inspired and motivated to keep moving forward in what I do, and to keep a stable mind. When it comes to maintaining relationships, life become a real struggle. With all my time occupied by soccer, school, and a part time job, I have no time to go out with friends. With soccer I am required to practice everyday from 7:30-10:30, and games on Thursday’s and Saturday’s. Mentally I feel alone in the sense that I have lost many friends. But to my benefit, it is somewhat preparing me for the future. People will come and go, and it is something that I will have to deal with at some point in time.

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As I grew older, spending time with Family has become tough. Most days my schedule goes as follows; arrive home at 4:00, do homework and eat till 7:00, attend practice from 7:30-10:30, arrive home at 11 and continue homework till about 12:30. Tiring right? But overall this difficulty is preparing me for what’s coming as I grow older. When it comes time for me to prioritize in university whether to go out or complete my work, the decision won’t be all that difficult. In the moment, prioritizing helps me realize how important family time is, and through this I always make time for them. Through St. Michael’s College, I was able to network and make new relationships with athletes at school. Meeting new people who somewhat face the same struggles that I do mentally and physically, has been a great tool for me to use in becoming a better person. This privilege has strengthened me and in a way comforted me. It comforted me in the sense that I no longer struggle in the sense of being a student athlete, and I can talk to these guys whenever I feel low.

Unfortunately, not all student athletes have this advantage. A study showed that 33% of college students experience symptoms of depression, anxiety or some sort of mental illness. From that group, 30% seek help. It is quite clear how serious this issue that student athletes face really is, and how lucky I am to have the support base that I have. Having reached that point in my academic year, the time has now come to decide what I want to do once I finish high school. As a kid, my dream was always to play Professional Soccer for Manchester United, but as I grew older I realized that was just a fantasy. After much deliberation and research I believed my best fit was to attend University in the States. Although there are better learning and athletic opportunities in the states than Canada, it will be very difficult for me to leave my family and friends behind. Furthermore, applying to US schools require a lot of effort, in the sense that my grades need to be high, and I am required to write the SAT, which is a standardized test for all US college prospects.

The other difficult part is determining which school i would want to attend. On the topic of schools I am on the radar of several US and Canadian Universities. Although the feeling is great, some of the schools will value my academic abilities over my athletic ones, and vice versa. To provide some context, one of the schools who have shown a great interest is Bryant University, a Private University in Rhode Island. At Bryant, the minimum GPA requirement they want from me is a 3.5 which is an 80-84% in Canada, and an 1100 out of 1600 on the SAT. On the other hand another school who has shown interest is Wake Forest University, in North Carolina. Wake Forest requires me to have a 4.0 GPA which is an 85-100% in canada, and a 1430 out of 1600 on the SAT. Although Bryant seems more likely to be the school I attend, they do not have the program I would like to major in which is Architecture. Wake Forest on the other hand does.

Overall, this has affected me greatly because of the amount of stress in this decision making process. For me, academics will always come before the sport but in this situation which is granted, the better opportunity for me would be to pursue an athletic career. After sitting down with my guidance counselor Ms. Higgins-Burnham, she encouraged me to not change who I am, and still pursue my academic career. That being said, I have done just that and in the process have received many more offers from several great Universities. All things considered, Mental Illness is a situation which we all face, but at the same time choose to ignore. This issue is extremely prominent among high school students, and in particular “Student Athletes”. As mentioned before Mental Illness has the ability to damage a students well being through their academics and prospective sport. The harsh realities of mental illness are evident through the balancing of sport, maintaining relationships, and post secondary decisions. The harsh realities of mental illness is something I had to face, but with the supportive help from friends, family and others around me I was able to rise above it.

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