The week of Sept. 30-Oct.7 is Student Athlete Mental Health Week, an initiative created by Hilinski’s Hope Foundation that encourages collective action from colleges and universities to eliminate stigmas and increase mental health resources for student athletes.
This is the fourth year since the foundation first implemented this week of action, and over 160 schools around the country have pledged to participate in the efforts.
Drew University is not one of the schools that recognizes Student Athlete Mental Health Week, but that does not exclude Drew’s student athletes from the increasingly prominent conversation of mental health.
Mental health has become a growing concern and focus for improvement across the board over the last few years, especially in regards to college students; the National Institutes of Health describes college as an at-risk period for development of mental health struggles. Despite this, the mental health of student-athletes remains undiscussed by most people.
Although it is a much smaller topic of conversation, student-athlete mental health concerns are in fact very prevalent throughout colleges and universities.
A 2022 study by the National Collegiate Athletic Association showed that the number of student-athletes reporting mental health concerns is between 1.5 and two times higher than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Equally as illuminating was the fact that only half of student-athlete respondents reported feeling that their health was a priority to their athletics department.
Most people tend to have mixed understandings of the importance of supporting student-athlete mental health. A research report by the National Institutes of Health explains that participation in sports is often credited with facilitating positive mental health behaviors, which is a commonly held belief among the general public.
While this is true in many cases, the National Institute of Health’s study also shows that “student-athletes may be more susceptible to mental health issues due to the demands of sport participation (e.g., sports injury, coach expectations).”
Being a student-athlete can certainly benefit one’s well-being by offering structure and active engagement, but it also comes with more challenges and responsibilities for students to tackle.
Megan Slater (‘24), a member of the Rangers’ Women’s Swim & Dive team, explained some of the ways being a student-athlete has affected her mental health and daily life.
“I believe that having carved out blocks in my schedule for exercise is super important for both my physical and mental health,” Slater said. “Whether it’s stress caused by classes or personal reasons, being able to come to practice and burn off energy is great relief. That being said, it can be hard to find time in between other important things that boost your mood such as getting enough sleep, spending time with friends or simply relaxing.”
The disconnect between what non-athletes assume about student-athletes’ mental health and the reality of what they often experience is something that is personally felt by Drew athletes.
“To an extent I think they can understand how busy our schedules are and appreciate the kind pressure we face to perform well in both athletics and academics,” Slater said. “I don’t know how many consider how these factors contribute to our mental health.”
This sentiment was echoed by Slater’s teammate, Sarah Weber (‘26), who expressed doubts that other students comprehend the entirety of the student-athlete experience.
“To be honest, I think non-student athletes don’t think much of our mental health,” Weber said. “They might think that we do our sport because it is fun and we are naturally good at it but that is not [always] the case! They might not consider the early mornings, late nights, and traveling.”
The NCAA’s study also focused on determining student-athletes’ awareness of and level of comfort with mental health resources on campus; while two-thirds of respondents know where to find resources, less than half of survey participants said they would feel comfortable seeking support from a mental health provider on campus.
Slater offered a viewpoint from her personal observations on Drew’s campus that once again reinforced these statistics, suggesting that the school could do more to provide sufficient and accessible resources.
“In regards to mental health initiatives specifically designed for athletes, I’m honestly not sure,” Slater said. “I think our school has potential to have that kind of support system, but if they already do, they need to spread more awareness.”
By remaining an under-discussed issue on college campuses, student-athlete mental health challenges have not been and will continue to not be sufficiently addressed and combatted. Understanding how prevalent these issues actually are and the extent of their impact is necessary in order for change to occur.
Without serious consideration and conversation, student-athlete mental health concerns often go unnoticed and can have sudden detrimental effects; this was the case for Tyler Hilinski, whose unexpected passing led to the establishment of the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation.
Hilinski’s Hope Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2018 that aims to promote awareness of and education about mental health and wellness among student athletes. It also funds programs to help provide student-athletes with the necessary tools to support their well-being.
Charlotte Wells is a senior majoring in English and French.