After her gold medal at the Beijing Games, 22-year-old snowboarder Chloe Kim said this week she plans to retire from the 2022-23 season to focus on her mental health, citing the need to hit reset. pressing after an “exhaustive year.”
Kim is the latest professional athlete to publicly share the impact competition can have on mental wellbeing and one of many high-profile performers to at least temporarily fully retire from athletic events, including Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, tennis star Naomi Osaka and Olympic swimmer Caeleb dressel.
Bringing these choices into the public sphere has long been a taboo topic at all levels of athletics. According to a 2019 study in the journal Sports Medicine, the barriers to open discussion about mental health issues include “a more negative attitude toward seeking help among athletes than the general population, as well as a greater stigma. and poorer mental health knowledge.”
At the university level, conferences and universities prioritize overall health by placing mental well-being on a par with traditional medical support for physical injury, embracing the concept that conditions related to mental health should be treated with the same focus and care like an ACL tear or concussion.
Mental health concerns have gripped university athletics in recent weeks after the suicide of three female student athletes, according to statements from family members and local coroners.
Stanford football player and team captain Katie Meyer, 22, died on March 1. Wisconsin athlete Sarah Shulze, 21, died on April 13. On Thursday, the Western Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia ruled on the death of James Madison softball payer Lauren Bernett. , 20, by being suicide.
“We need to make it a topic that’s okay to talk about, that’s okay to talk about without any stigma or judgment of any kind,” Dr. James Borchers, the chief medical officer of the Big Ten and the co-founder and chairman of the US Council for Athletes’ Health, told USA TODAY Sports.
“Institutions are looking at that not just with athletes, but with students in general. In athletics, it’s becoming a much more recognized need for athletes to participate.”
Not long after being hired in 2019, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren founded the league’s Mental Health and Wellness Cabinet with the goal of “creating and maintaining the most comprehensive platform for mental health and wellness in college athletics.” he said at the time.
Last November, the Big Ten joined the ACC and Pac-12 in creating an initiative, Teammates for Mental Health, designed to educate coaches and student-athletes about the signs that a person may be struggling with their mental health. health.
In terms of creating a public dialogue, these steps and similar programs set up at the individual university level have brought the issue into the mainstream after a long period of neglecting topics such as anxiety, depression and the balance between sports and school for student -athletes.
“I think in the past, if you go back 20 years and we thought about the health and safety of athletes, we put a lot of thought into physical health and safety,” Borchers said. “But this is an area that has definitely emerged as a point of concern and concern, where in the past it may have been second, third, fourth or even further down the line.”
Mental health experts in some athletic departments
Following on from existing efforts at a broader student level, many athletic departments have hired mental health professionals and committed resources to create programs designed to address the topic of common good.
One such program at Texas Tech puts this conversation in three buckets. The first establishes a primary care integration model for more traditional health services so that every trainer, team physician or specialist provider interacting with the Red Raiders’ student-athletes works with the same treatment plans.
The second is about sports psychology and looks at ways student-athletes can weather the ups and downs of competition and schoolwork through heightened emotional intelligence. The third relates to organizational psychology, or how individuals in a larger group can work together to achieve shared goals.
LAKE: Katie Meyer felt “stress to be perfect.” Many student-athletes tell.
“Our goal, and we say it time and again, is to create a sustainable, healthy and high-performing environment where we truly understand that wellness is the foundation of performance,” says Dr. Tyler Bradstreet, an associate director of athletics and the school principal. director of clinical and sports psychology.
“Why that’s important is that it goes beyond just providing mental health treatments on a one-to-one level and really understanding all the different things that really impact one’s mental health and well-being.”
‘It is obvious that there is a need’
In addition, nonprofits have filled a void on campuses by connecting directly with student-athletes. One group, Morgan’s Message, was founded in 2020 to honor Morgan Rodgers, a Duke lacrosse player who died by suicide in 2019, and has more than 800 “ambassadors” at 168 high schools and 226 college campuses in 35 states, Washington, D.C. , and two Canadian provinces.
“For many of us, we don’t want anyone else to lose their Morgan,” said co-founder Kat Zempolich, one of Rodgers’ former teammates. “There’s such a stigma around mental health, which I think is the biggest hill to climb. It’s pretty obvious there’s a need.”
In addition to expanding the conversation about mental health issues, the organization’s message touches on the concept of self-esteem – the sense of one’s intrinsic worth beyond external achievements and successes.
“What we’re trying to preach as a group is that your worth doesn’t come from the things you do,” Zempolich said. “Your worth is not based on how many goals you put in the back of the net or how many (many) minutes you are on the field. It is not based on getting an A, a B or a C. You are valued for just be human, just be who you are.”
Whether from within an athletics department or from an outside organization, any program dedicated to student-athlete mental wellbeing aims to address every potential problem. In some cases, that could be related to an athlete struggling with the end of his or her playing career or with the balance between schoolwork and teamwork; in other cases, normalizing mental health conversations can be a lifeline for a student-athlete struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“The more we do that, the more our teams do, the more our coaches feel confident talking about these things, the more athletes see their teammates talk to us, the more they see us talk to their coaches — it gets just part of the process,” said Bradstreet.
“There needs to be some action around it,” said Borchers. “When I say action, I mean proactive action, not always reactive action. And look, it’s like everything else. We have to do our best in preparation.”
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 800-273-TALK (8255). Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential SMS support to people in crisis when they call 741741.