There are many positive emotional benefits to being a student-athlete. Student athletes often have positive self-esteem and body image; may have a built-in support network through teammates, coaches, and athletic department staff; and may feel very connected to the campus community.
Despite these benefits, there is also evidence that student-athletes may be more at risk than their nonathlete peers for experiencing certain types of mental health difficulties, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, and social and performance anxiety. In addition, they often experience physical difficulties such as sleep problems and fatigue, aches and pains (including headaches), physical tension, and digestive problems. Student-athletes often face high levels of stress from attempting to balance demands from both academics and athletics, as well as from the pressure to excel and win. In addition, their identity may be strongly tied to being an athlete. This could become problematic when a student-athlete suffers a serious injury, gets cut from the team, is finished with eligibility, is asked to play a limited role on a team, or has conflict with other team members or coaches.
The culture of athletics emphasizes being "mentally tough," "showing no sign of weakness," and "fighting through the pain," which may prevent student-athletes from seeking help. Many of these stressors and associated mental health symptoms may make student-athletes more vulnerable to suicidal behaviors. In recent years, there have been some high-profile student-athlete suicides.
The following are online resources for student-athletes and coaches.
Depression: Interventions for Intercollegiate Athletics. NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook. 2006
Half of Us, University of Tennessee Athlete Story—Video
Suicide risk is real for student-athletes
Student-athletes also face dangers from depression
Psychology of sport more than performance enhancement
Forum places psychological focus on mental-health issues