Student-athletes Lauren Bernett, Sarah Schulz and Katie Meyer.
2022 has had a disheartening start to the year for student-athletes, as their suicide rates have shattered any previous statistics only 4 months into the new year. These rates have already tripled the yearly average for female college athletes' suicides alone.
Three top-performing female student-athletes: James Madison softball star Lauren Bernett (20) Big-10 Wisconsin track athlete Sarah Schulz (21) and Stanford soccer player Katie Meyer (22) have all taken their own lives in the span of 7 weeks. Highlighting the struggle student-athletes have when asking for help, along with keeping up with their overly demanding lives.
Bernett was described by the James Maddison University president as a high achieving young woman and “a great ambassador of JMU and our athletics program.”
Bernett’s time at JMU was very successful, her team made last year’s world series going 41-4 all year. Bernett herself was a talented sophomore catcher who was third on the school's team in home runs and second in RBIs.
Schulz was a dual athlete at the University of Wisconsin on the track and field team as well as the cross country team. it was reported that she committed suicide earlier this year at the age of 21. From oak park California, Schulz was a big-10 honours athlete for both 2020 and 2021 seasons in cross country and track, this high achieving and decorated athlete seemed to have no red flags that indicated self-harm although her parents released a statement settling “balancing athletics, academics and the demands of everyday life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment,".
The heartbreaking loss of Sarah has pushed her parents to establish the ‘Sarah Schulz Foundation’ with the aim to support other student-athletes facing the same struggles. Sarah was suffering at the time from mental health issues and struggling with personal matters.
A few months ago, Standford senior and team captain for the Cardinals Katie Meyer, ended her life at 22. Katie was a very intelligent young woman majoring in International Relations and minoring in History. Along with her academics, Katie was no ordinary athlete as a redshirt freshman she lead her team of Cardinals to the 2019 national championship. Katie's mother described her as a perfectionist, during a live interview with NBC she stated “There is [this] anxiety and…stress to be perfect, to be the best, to be number one,” once again placing a spotlight on the expectations held over student-athletes.
Caillin Welles Bracken was another student-athlete struggling with the pressures of the sporting world. Thankfully, she had a network around her that helped her to step away from sport and focus more on her mental health. She has now used her experience to help advocate for better support for the mental health of all student-athletes as she states “I want coaches to look at players as humans, not commodities, I want the administration to recognise the pressure they put on these young adults”.
Despite the growing awareness for discussion around mental illness, the stigma around sport and mental stability remains consistent and with little support. When the covid-19 pandemic began the NCAA released a survey on mental health to 37,000 student-athletes. They concluded, that the concerns for mental health had risen 150-200% higher than ever recorded and this year as we know the suicide rates for female student-athletes alone has tripled any other yearly record only 4 months into the year. NCAA has now highlighted mental health concerns although it seems not enough is being done in order to prevent the loss of these young men and women, this is a matter to be focused on specifically for colleges and the college sporting federation such as NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA.
Australian university student and alpine skier Lily Tomkinson highlighted the correlations and differences between Australian and American student-athletes and what can be done to make managing their demanding lives easier.
Tomkinson describes her sporting life as “very separate” from her school life, and explained how her university doesn’t recognise her as an athlete and “probably isn’t aware” that she is a full-time athlete.
“being a student and an athlete in Australia is very different to being a student-athlete in the US,” she said when discussing the support both academically and financially.
When asked about the support she receives for her mental health, Tomkinson attributes most of it to her sports head coach and the support of her family. She describes the benefits of student-athlete life as far more manageable with a trusting team behind you. Balancing school and studying for Tomkinson is manageable and she likes how it keeps your mind busy and provides more structure to your busy day.
When asked what universities and colleges can improve on to help athletes manage living more easily Tomkinson’s instant response was “it’s a tricky question to find an answer, each athlete's needs are subjective to the type of person they are.” “Mental health must come first and foremost,” she said.
Her two main points were “financial aid” and access to psychologists who specialise in working with athletes, as well as “encouragement or even forceful psych assistance.”
Australian universities don’t have the same recognition for athletic support and inclusion with studying the demands on these athletes is very similar as these two athletes highlight the importance of mental health in young athletes.
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