Personal Essay

By Deanna North
Riverhead High School

As a student athlete, mental health should be a priority however there is a lack of resources in getting help. Many athletes are afraid of reaching out and getting help. This year in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) the suicide rate has risen and is the leading cause of death in athletes. Seeing this, I knew something needed to change.

In the last 2 years, I have struggled with my mental health more than I could have imagines that I would. I went through major knee surgery and felt I would never be the athlete I was before surgery. I battled through feeling worthless, not good enough, and mentally drained. This led me to almost quit softball altogether. As I have reflected on these past 2 years and started seeing a therapist, I knew I never wanted to see another athlete struggle or feel the way I did. This year I decided to share my mental health story with the world and show athletes that it is perfectly normal to struggle because as athletes we are all the same.

With this project I am hoping to bring inclusivity back to sports. I hope to have our teams be less divided. We all go through countless training sessions, early morning practices, and we all sacrifice our time to play the sport we love. However, growing up, all the sports were divided into their own categories. So, with sharing my mental health story, I decided to take a leap of faith and not just spread mental health awareness on social media, but in person as well. I have chosen to give a speech and one game for each spring sport based on my mental health struggles, and how I coped with all the pressures and stress of society. I wanted to be able to speak to athletes and let them know that we all have a story, and that we are humans before we are athletes. I am hoping that if more athletes hear that it is normal to struggle from another athlete their age, that they will be more open minded to get help. This has been a topic that I am so passionate about because I do not want the suicide rate in athletes to continue to rise due to lack of resources in mental health treatment and athletes. Also, I want to be able to break the stigma surrounding mental health in athletes. Being a student athlete, when I was struggling greatly, I heard so many comments from teammates and coaches telling me to “toughen up” or to “not be so sensitive” when in reality that was not the case. As women in sports, we should be allowed to struggle.

Athletes are not superheroes and sometimes we cannot do it all. Many athletes my age are balancing 3-4 AP courses with a heavy workload, two varsity sports, travel sports, part time jobs, while at the same time, trying to make time for friends and family. This can be a lot of pressure and stress on young adults because we feel that we need to do it all. I want every athlete to know that we are a community, and we need to support each other and realize that we are all going to struggle at some point in our lives. Also, I believe that this will support Riverhead athletes to realize that even though we play different sports, we all are putting our all into something we love. I also hope that this will reach coaches and help them to see that their athletes are not deliberately slacking, that they are struggling mentally. Knowing the difference between laziness and struggling with mental health can help save a life. If you Early intervention and support can greatly benefit an athlete’s well-being and performance, both on and off the field. With coaches having this knowledge they can help reach athletes and also do their part in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in athletes as well. I honestly believe this project is going to reach so many and help athletes get the help that they need. Also, I want this project to bring back the comradery we had in sports so long ago. It illustrates that each team is supporting each other just as much as they are supporting their own and that we are all in this together. Overall, this project and spreading mental health awareness in athletes cannot just help my community but help so many others across Long Island and help athletes to see eye to eye and show that everyone is deeply loved, strong, worthy of help, and capable of so many things.