Student athletes face many demands in today’s competitive environment. In addition to the realities of everyday student stressors—whether that be academics, working a part-time job to support themselves, or adjusting to being away from home—student-athletes have unique stressors that can add further constraints to their mental health and well-being.
Student-athletes find themselves needing to grapple with injuries taking them out of the game they love to play, pressure to deliver in high-stakes moments that may decide their team’s fate, the stress of trying to stay in top physical shape, and much more. Facing failure as a student-athlete, whether through team or individual competition, can bring about negative self-talk and fear of losing out on future opportunities to succeed as an athlete in school, or beyond graduation for those who have aspirations for the pros.
On top of the academic and social demands of college life, student-athletes often deal with media coverage and public scrutiny; navigating athletic performance pressure from their peers, team, and coaches; and facing the personal demand to meet their own expectations and goals.
These added responsibilities have contributed to the sharp increases in mental health concerns for the student population across the country in recent years, and especially so during the pandemic. According to a recent study conducted by the JED Foundation, 63% of students say that their emotional health is worse than before the COVID-19 pandemic started, and 56% are concerned with their ability to care for their mental health.
In order to better understand the stressors that student-athletes are currently facing and how to help our student-athletes thrive, we connected with Kellie Peiper from the University at Buffalo, who serves as the assistant athletic director for student-athlete excellence.
The Added Pressures on Student-Athlete Mental Health and Well-being
Through her role at University at Buffalo and her time as a student-athlete herself, Peiper shares that student-athletes navigate a variety of added pressures, all of which contribute to their mental health status. Due to their demanding schedules and other elements surrounding student-athlete mental health, they may face additional barriers to seeking help, such as:
- Stigma and the perception of “weakness.” The perception of “mental toughness” in sports culture can hinder a student-athlete from reaching out for help.
- Identity crises with injuries. Season-ending injuries can spark a grieving process for student-athletes and create an identity crisis. Losing the physical and mental health benefits of exercise and the social connection associated with the sport can impact student-athletes’ mental health greatly.
- Academic and athletic balance. Student-athletes have added pressures on top of academic demands, sport requirements, and trainings. Time constraints due to busy schedules may also keep student athletes from reaching out.
Thankfully, there are ways to solve for these issues, according to Peiper. To further support student-athlete mental health, universities can incorporate the following:
- Increased or enhanced training sessions. Training student-athletes, coaches, and mental health counselors through Mental Health First Aid programs, “train the trainer” sessions, or similar training sessions can further build awareness and decrease stigma.
- Increased outreach efforts. Bridge the gap between mental health services and student-athletes. Craft targeted support services specific to student-athletes to meet them where they are, focusing on topics that are relevant to the student-athlete experience.
- Creation of a strong support system. Interaction with counseling center staff, expansion of mental health services, and peer-support programs can further create a collegiate environment supportive of student-athlete mental health. For those campuses who have a sports psychologist on staff, they can bridge the gap for student-athlete mental health support.
SUNY is deeply committed to bettering the mental health and well-being for all students and recognizes that student-athletes in particular can greatly benefit from additional targeted outreach, training, and support systems on campus. Creating a mental health and wellness-centric culture on campus can help bridge the growing gap for student-athletes and supply them with a much-needed support system.
Resources to Help Make Mental Health Care Routine
There are many ways to stay on top of your mental health, from talking to friends and family about your problems to setting a counseling routine with a trained professional. Throughout the SUNY system, each campus either has an on-campus counseling center or provides access to community mental health resources to help students. If you or a friend is in need of help, visit SUNY’s mental health resources page.
If you are currently experiencing a crisis, reach out to one of the following resources:
SUNY Crisis Text Line
Text Got5U to 741-741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
New York State COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline:
Veterans Crisis Line:
- Call: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) and Press 1
- Text: 838255
- Chat: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat
Support for deaf and hard of hearing:
- Chat and text message (838255)
- For TTY users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255. Or chat with us.
Written by Marquel Bedrossian
Marquel is the Academic Health Data Analyst at SUNY System Administration..