Athletes take on ultimate challenge: Mental health

Bella Riccitelli

Sports Editor


Often in the sports world, athletes are expected to appear tough enough to not feel anything. When becoming injured, they are expected to walk it off, literally and figuratively.

In contrast, a physical injury could possibly be a setback. It is completely acceptable and okay to say, “I’m injured, I can’t play this game.”

An injury the eye can see? Not a problem. Just sit it out. Walk it off. Call it a day and move on.

Injuries are widely discussed in the athletics world. However, what no one seems to talk about is mental health.

If a man is perceived as upset, anxious or even out of it a little, it is safe to say that not only his teammates, but his coach as well would make him feel bad about it – worse and ashamed even. As a woman, I know that a coach would chalk it off as a hysterical fit or something similar.

What I do not understand is why.

Why is it like this? Why are we living in 2019, where now more than ever, people are encouraged to be themselves, unless you are an athlete?

Then you need to be tough. It is not really expected for you to be smart. You don’t really need much of a personality if you can throw or catch a ball. Then you are set for life.

But what if you don’t want to be?

Society views athletes as superheroes. That is where the problem starts.

If you start your sports career as a local athlete, such as the high school star football player, you are viewed as an idol in your hometown.

Making it big in the real world? Nationally, you are a star. Little kids look up to you, while falling asleep in your jersey and wishing to wake up in your body instead of their own.

There are literally grown men who will cry over a lost game.

But what the world does not see is the taboo that is mental illness and health. While on the pedestal that society has so highly placed an athlete on, depression is not an option.

Instead, the world believes athletes have no reason to feel depressed. They should have everything they ever wanted. Mental illness does not fit in that category.

I would not be surprised if mental health is not something that schools or professional athletic teams go over and look out for. Mental health is real. Mental illness is real.

When an athlete commits suicide, many people say, “How could this happen? He/she was doing so great,” when in reality, they should be considering how the person must feel on the inside.

Because yes, athletes are people, too. Although many of us seem to forget.

When Michael Phelps spoke out about his mental illness, the world took a step back. A lot of people failed to understand where he was coming from.

A lot of people tried to argue his mental illness, as if it was an opinion rather than a fact.

He’s an Olympic gold medalist, what is there to be sad about? Anxious, with literally the whole world watching him? Well, that doesn’t add up.

Depression, anxiety and OCD just barely scratch the surface of what many athletes silently struggle with.

By silently struggling, I would even say these health issues are going untreated.

With hardly any pressure on me, and with maybe three or four people watching me (including my parents) I almost let anxiety take over my life. Thankfully, I took all of the right steps and got it treated medically.

Can you imagine having the weight of the world on your shoulders with hundreds of people watching you, including children?

Everyone is expecting you to just simply continue being the best because you are an athlete. You are tough and strong, and nothing gets to you because it can’t.

I have been writing articles for ten years. Many of those articles are sports related. If I had to outline each article, each interview and each athlete I have ever spoken to, I can confidently say mental health has almost never been brought up or discussed.

I have heard all about the pressure, the expectation of playing perfectly all the while maintaining straight A’s.

Throughout all of that, athletes are expected to be happy. In 2019, we need to become aware of the fact that there could be way more beneath the surface.

If you are a Broward College student, know that there are confidential resources for you to use. Henderson Mental Health services offer BC students six free counseling sessions, along with a plan to fit your financial stance once you have run out of sessions.

Contact 954-424-6916 to learn more or make an appointment.



Photo Caption: On the bench with Bella

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