Our next blog series will cover a difficult, but important topic. The newly released book, What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan, shares Maddy’s story in hopes of increasing awareness on mental health and preventing future tragedies.
There is a saying at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution with obviously challenging academics and athletes, when students are completely overwhelmed but trying hard to appear to have everything together. The student body jokingly calls the look, “Penn Face”. This is the look that everything is ok, even though it is not ok. Unfortunately, the art of appearing ok can lead to serious mental health concerns.
Fagan cites research to put mental health of college students in perspective. In a 2014 study by the American College Health Association, 20,000 student-athletes were surveyed regarding mental health. The study reported that 28 percent of female student athletes and 21 percent of male student-athletes reported feeling depressed and 48 percent of females and 31 percent of males reported feeling anxious. Even more concerning was that 14 percent of the student-athletes studied had seriously considered suicide and 6 percent had attempted suicide.
A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 7 percent of parents reported their college student experiencing mental health issues, but 50 percent of students rated their mental health to be below average or poor. These numbers show that mental health concerns are prevalent, but are not easy to discuss and often hidden….student-athlete often keep the “Penn Face” keep others from knowing how they are really feeling.
Why does mental health still have such a stigma in our society? The very traits that make elite student-athletes so competitive are often the same traits that hinder their mental health. Determination, hard work, sacrifice, and “toughing it out” are necessary to achieve excellence, but can ultimately undermine our mental health and performance if we don’t manage these strengths. Most student-athletes who have struggled with mental health concerns will tell you they resisted or waited too long to get help. These same student-athletes will tell you how much getting help improved their life and encourage others to do the same. In fact, this past summer, two college student-athletes bravely shared their own mental health struggles in an attempt to encourage others to seek the help they need. Please take the time to watch/read these compelling stories:
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