Mental health struggles for student athletes

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Happiness and health or hard work and hubris? Spoiler: they’re the same picture. lee lim

Whether it’s during the game or not, your self-talk and headspace always make an impact

In 2020, Samwel Uko, a University of Saskatchewan football player, was found dead in Wascana Lake. Earlier that day, Uko had walked into the Regina General Hospital seeking help for mental health related problems and was turned away by health officials citing that they could not help him due to COVID-19 restrictions. In the same week that Uko died, Matthew Baraniuk, a U of S Huskies player, died from struggles with mental illness. Following Baraniuk’s death, his sister spoke with CTV News to say that mental health supports are needed for athletes, and that a psychological mentorship program could be beneficial to athletes. 

In an article by the CKOM News in Saskatoon in 2020, the news source spoke with University of Saskatchewan receiver Yol Piok, who spoke about his experience with attempting suicide, and how a friend saved his life. Piok stated that “For athletes, sometimes the pressure comes from within to just power through problems and not to address them,” and that that is a mistake. Piok believes that talking about your problems is the first step in the right direction to address these types of issues.

For many student athletes, it is difficult to reach out for help when they are struggling as sports culture has taught many athletes that seeking help is considered weak. The approach to seek help has become more destigmatized as the years have progressed. However, student athletes continue to face internal shame for wanting to seek help. A lack of access to mental health supports and barriers along with this deep-rooted culture within sports for all genders have led many athletes to internalize their issues without seeking external support. These incidents involving student athletes are not exclusive to football players, but rather to the greater university sports world.

In response to needing to find more mental health supports for student athletes, the University of Regina athletics have hired a Mental Wellness Coordinator to help student athletes with their mental health. The Mental Wellness Coordinator will assist student athletes through both in-competition performance and out of competition support. Hopefully, this type of support will help student athletes in their time of need before it’s too late. Along with the implementation of a Mental Wellness Coordinator, a few U of R sports teams have hired and begun working with a sport physiologist to help with athlete performance. This includes classroom discussions about pre-competition routines and awareness regarding self-talk.

Athletes often experience moments of frustration or disappointment while competing, which can often lead to negative self-talk and can affect performance. Therefore, the implementation of a sports physiologist helps to make sure that athletes have a way to release those types of emotions and be able to move on rather than dwelling on mistakes or mishaps during competition.

Bell Let’s Talk is a campaign put on by Bell Canada in January to stop the stigma of mental illness. Many sports teams across Canada including the U of R sports teams normally partake in Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign. However, it is important that the discussion surrounding mental health does not only happen on Bell Let’s Talk Day, but is rather a conversation that continues throughout the year. The university sports world is making positive changes to try and address mental health concerns of athletes, which hopefully will create a safe space for athletes to seek help.

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