By, Mikayla C. ’19
Rather than working on my English paper one night, I was scrolling through YouTube and stumbled upon a TED Talk. Victoria Garrick, the University of Southern California volleyball player, talked about her experiences with mental health challenges. Despite being a starter on the team, Garrick would sometimes hate being at practice. She would oftentimes run to the bathroom to cry. She was so busy that these bathroom runs felt like a quick break in her hectic schedule. Being told that the “best don’t rest” and that “feel’s not real” can cause stress for these student-athletes, and it can become hard to determine the difference between working hard and working too hard.
What Garrick was explaining – the feeling of having no time, the stigma behind mental health, the emphasis on physical rather than mental health – really hit close to home. I was particularly struck by how she said that athletes tell themselves, “The person next to me is working harder than I am. She truly wants it.” I’ve always sensed a problem with these words but have never truly identified why I found them problematic. It’s hard finding that medium between motivating yourself to work hard and valuing your mental health at the same time.
Student-athletes are always being pushed to work their hardest. Whether it be in the classroom or on the field, they are consistently achieving. However, this can sometimes take a toll on them. Being a student and an athlete can create an increased combination of pressure. Athletes don’t get the opportunity to process things due to the fast-paced nature of their lives and because taking breaks can be seen as a weakness. Athletes may also have issues that they face outside of sports, which can contribute to mental health challenges, or they may also have challenges before which sports aggravates. Charlotte D. ’21 talked about how she knows people with mental health issues who are also athletes. She said, “In their cases, the pressure from their sport adds to the anxiety they feel, but [it] isn’t necessarily the cause or main reason.” While exercise can make one feel good in the moment and being a part of a group is healthy, if underlying mental health concerns are not addressed, it may not be as beneficial in the long run.
While mental health in general is slowly being destigmatized, mental health issues in athletes are rarely talked about. Garrick took a stand on a taboo topic. While these student-athlete challenges are prominent, as the statistics she mentioned show, the stigma behind mental health hinders athletes from speaking out. Instead, they live in this silent world telling themselves it will be better. Julia C. ’19 watched the video and said, “I never even put the [mental health and athletes] together before watching [Victoria Garrick’s video], and I didn’t think that I have experienced mental health challenges, but after watching the video I realized how much I could relate to it and how much of a problem it is.” Many professional athletes, along with other athletes like Victoria, are working to address this stigma. In fact, athletes, like Serena Williams and Michael Phelps, have publicly shared their own personal experiences with mental health challenges.
While Garrick didn’t provide suggestions on how student-athletes can manage stress, she strongly urged increasing awareness that athletes also deal with mental health challenges. I hope that this article brings to light the struggles an athlete can face. If you’d like to watch Garrick’s speech, click the link below!