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What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Mental Health Trends in Female Student-Athletes

by CapCareAdmin on May 26, 2015

On Jan. 17, 2014, University of Pennsylvania’s 19-year-old track star Madison Holleran committed suicide. Since this tragedy, the sports community has struggled to understand how they can improve mental health among female college athletes.

To determine that magnitude that which mental health illness affects female student athletes, FOX Sports interviewed more than 25 female, student-athletes along mental health experts and NCAA officials. While these student-athletes told tales of strength and fortitude, they also revealed a forewarning that we should be worried for the well being of women in college sports. The majority of women interviewed confirmed that eating disorders are the top issue related to their sport.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), bulimia and anorexia are twice as prevalent among athletes versus the general population of women. This could be because female college athletes succumb to the pressures of women to not only gain muscle in training, but to also stay thin to uphold a standard of beauty outside of sports.

Many universities across the nation are beginning to become aware that mental health is a concern for female student athletes.

A former D-1 gymnast said, “ I’ve never met a gymnast who was in love with their body,”

A group of lacrosse players from the University of Southern California revealed, “We talk about body image every day.”

A D-I swimmer told a story of a time when men wore T-shirts that read “Whale Watching,” in reference to her team.

Alexandra Schoenberger, a Dartmouth volleyball player, said that her trainers would hook her up to a machine that tracks changes in her body fat percentage.

Mental health illness is dangerous not only because of suicide risk but also because of the long-term damage to physical health. Today, more women have eating disorders than breast cancer. Moreover, bulimia and anorexia have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness according to ANAD.

Rumor has it that most student-athletes see professional help as a “sign of weakness.” Furthermore, a lot of student athletes are also discouraged from getting help because there can be three week waits to see a school counselor. Duke basketball player Oderah Chidom explained, “For a young woman suffering from deep depression, three weeks can be the difference between life and death.”

The NCAA may be one of the biggest factors as to why this issue is not being fixed. The NCAA’s website contains more than 200 pages of mental health documents. However, not one single student-athlete interviewed was aware of any NCAA resources. When asked if the NCAA had a responsibility to take a direct hand in the mental health of student-athletes, Mary E. Wilfert, Associate Director of the NCAA Sport Science Institute, declared, “No, intervention cannot come out of the national office … we are not a medical organization.”

So, what can be done to improve mental health among female student athletes? To begin, the sport community needs to further their efforts to eliminate the bad stigma surrounding mental health issues. Furthermore, student-athletes themselves need to take initiative of the on-campus support available. Finally, the NCAA needs to take responsibility as the governing body of college sports to take care of their athletes and create a strategic plan to improve student-athletes’ mental health.

If or if you or a loved one is seeking help for any mental health illness, contact Capitol Care at their New Jersey department of mental health for a confidential discussion.

 

 

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