7 Mental Health Challenges That Are Common in Student-Athletes

Playing a sport provides many benefits, but it can take a toll on your mental health just as much as your physical health. College athletes are at the height of their sport, which comes with many advantages, but can also bring with it some mental health challenges.

Learn about the importance of mental health in student-athletes and common mental health challenges that they face.

Why mental health is as important as physical health for student-athletes

Even though it’s easy to assume that being in peak physical form as a student-athlete is paramount to wins, mental health plays just as large of a role. If your head is overwhelmed with fears, stress or negative thoughts, it’s nearly impossible for your brain to focus on the actions at hand, such as shooting a basketball, scoring a touchdown or crossing that finish line. 

As a student-athlete, your mental health is essential in nearly every aspect of your performances, including:

  • Concentration
  • Decision-making
  • Correcting mistakes
  • Bouncing back from a loss
  • Reducing risk of injury
  • Performing under pressure

7 mental health challenges that a student-athlete may experience

Being a student-athlete can bring a ton of pressure, whether it’s because you rely on a sports scholarship or because you hope to move on to a career as a professional. But there are many mental health challenges that can interfere with your ability to handle that pressure and achieve your goals.

Here are seven mental health challenges that are common in student-athletes:

  • Burnout — Student-athletes may experience burnout during their continuous training and competitions. It can cause overwhelming emotional, physical and/or mental exhaustion. Combining high-intensity athletic obligations with demanding course loads can result in lack of effort and motivation for both your chosen sport and your education.

  • Anxiety — Whether you feel anxious before you perform your sport or you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, the mental distress can interfere with your athletic performance due to excessive worry and uncertainty. Approximately 12.5% of student-athletes are at risk of anxiety.

  • Depression — Being diagnosed with depression, or major depressive disorder, can cause overwhelming negative emotions and thoughts. These symptoms can cause fatigue, low energy levels and social withdrawal from teammates. Approximately 22.3% of student-athletes are at risk of depression symptoms.

  • Trauma from injury — Every sport has the possibility of injury, but that doesn’t make the risk any less scary. If you’re a student-athlete who has sustained an injury that damaged your abilities or resulted in time away from your sport for recovery, you may be fearful of experiencing the same traumatic injury and reducing your effort while performing.

  • Eating disorders — Playing a sport requires you to continuously improve and/or maintain your physical fitness. There are also many sports that have a focus on body image or shape, such as gymnastics, ballet and bodybuilding. Issues like an unhealthy relationship with food and a distorted body image can lead to eating disorders.

  • Fear of failure — Failure is inevitable at some point in our lives, and student-athletes feel a lot of pressure. You may worry about representing your school or losing a scholarship. This fear of failure can cause you to overexert yourself mentally and physically to reduce the risk of failure.

  • Low self-confidence — When it comes to playing a sport, confidence is key. You have to believe in your abilities as an athlete so that you aren’t second-guessing yourself. But it’s possible to experience low confidence after a loss or comparing yourself to other athletes.

How Lightfully U can help student-athletes address mental health challenges

If you’re a student-athlete struggling with mental health distress, such as anxiety, depression or trauma, it’s important to seek professional help. At Lightfully U, our Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program can help you get to the root of your problems. You’ll also learn coping mechanisms and cognitive skills that can help you improve as a student-athlete.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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