Student-athletes Work to End the Stigma Around Mental Health – The Blue Banner

Mental health remains a major issue among student-athletes, whose schedules differ from the average student because they must balance practice, strength and conditioning, homework, their social lives, and other things in life.

Three students presented their perspectives on the impact of social media, their own ways to keep a healthy mind and how to end the stigma around mental health.

Mental health ambassador Justin Flair, who just finished his junior season with the men’s soccer team, said it’s important to have resources and share stories of students’ struggles when it comes to meeting the needs of fellow athletes.

“The more we talk about it, the more they know it’s okay to talk about it. I think the people who signed up for the ambassador program have had their own struggles with mental health.” And have reached a point where there is nothing to hide from and something to be open about and live with, Flair said.

Brie Bitz, forward for the women’s soccer team, said she and her fellow ambassadors are trying to create an environment where vulnerability and inclusion are safe and comfortable for athletes on campus.

“As mental health ambassadors, we provide resources while being an example to come forward. Sharing your own struggles and stories will help people here. It’s going to lead to a better environment here and at all colleges.” is, and will help reduce the stigma of mental health,” Bitz said.

Both Flair and Bitz spoke to UNCA athletics mental health coordinator Dr. Laura K. Jones praised.

“I think it’s great that we have Dr. Jones on top because she’s amazing and totally understands the student-athlete experience and the things that we go through,” Bitz said.

For years, many people who struggle with their mental health have had to battle the stigma attached to the issue. Cameron Johnson, an infielder on the Bulldogs baseball team, said the stigma stems from a lack of understanding, ignorance and being afraid to own up to and accept the issue.

“As a society, I believe our healthcare system has improved along with increased awareness which is great. For years there has been a perception of mental health that carries this stigma that we need to break Have to continue,” Johnson said.

Bitz said a big part of the stigma is the idea that you have to be strong and balanced, not being allowed to show emotion when things get tough.

“From generation to generation, you’re taught to be strong and not to show these issues or ‘You’re not really struggling with these issues, it’s just in your head.’ In fact, things are going on but we don’t want to talk about them because we have been conditioned to think that we must be strong,” Bitz said.

Flair said that people view athletes as spoiled children who have everything they want and need to be successful, when in fact they are not.

“Honestly, people don’t know or understand how hard everyone else’s life is. They always say ‘Oh, I have it bad and everyone else has it easy.’ Most people have it bad in some capacity,” Flair said.

Bitz, Flair and Johnson all have their own ways of keeping a calm and healthy mind with their busy and heavy schedules. Bitz said it’s important to slow down and take time to breathe and reset, even just a little bit of it.

“I have to go from practice to class to tutoring and find, even if it’s five minutes, just to take a breath, slow down and realize that all these activities don’t define you and that you are a real human being outside of these things.” About,” Bitz said.

Football and baseball have some of the most grueling schedules due to the number of games played each week. Flair has encouraged himself and his teammates to take a break from the game to exercise and find hobbies outside of the game in order to keep a healthy mind.

“I love reading. It’s a little cold now, but I love going on walks. It’s finding that little time in the day to shut everything down and get away and I get a chance to breathe for once,” Flair he said.

Johnson said keeping a healthy mind comes down to maintaining a healthy balance of everyday life as an athlete, especially during the season when there are multiple games per week.

Infielder Cameron Johnson is ready at the plate. (Seth Mel.)

“Seeing something like close friends or family coming over to visit helps. I do what makes me most happy and what gives me peace of mind in the midst of a busy and stressful time,” Johnson said. .

Bitz said that social media’s impact on mental health can be both good and bad, explaining that much of her Instagram feed is motivational.

“My feed is more Pinterest than an actual Instagram feed,” Bitz joked.

Bitz said it can be difficult for him to deal with the daily battle of time management during the day while watching the success of other popular athletes on social media.

“The truth is that behind closed doors they can be completely down and out. Yet, social media is making them look like they’re on top of the world. I think that’s where they might be going wrong,” she said. Told.

Johnson said that social media can portray someone as something they are not, explaining that comparison is the thief of all joy.

“It’s never as pretty as it looks. On the other hand, social media can bring positivity and conversation that benefits us student-athletes for the betterment,” he said.

When it comes to social media, as Flair points out, people can curate their social media feeds based on how they want to appear, and being on a quiet campus compares to being on a big campus with popular athletes. Can be of help.

“Five-star athletes with thousands of followers are more fans than friends—everyone in the comments after a bad game is like ‘Who do you think you are?’ Luckily, I don’t have that kind of followers, so when I post, no one is saying something like ‘You don’t deserve to play anymore, get backup,'” Flair said.

Flair noted that it can be difficult to see various popular athletes on TikTok with name, image and likeness deals that allow them to make thousands of dollars and make comparisons. However, he understands that they too may have their own struggles.

“You can keep it positive or follow a bunch of five-star athletes with million-dollar brand deals. What did they do in their 18 years versus what I did in my 18 years before college? Watching It’s tough and I think the higher you go, the worse it gets,” Flair said.

Junior noted recent suicides of student-athletes across the country and how high followings on social media can still affect an athlete’s mental state.

“A volleyball player I play with at Texas Tech posted a long paragraph about her mental health and the mental health of her friends. This was in the wake of last spring when student-athletes were committing suicide that seemed to happen every week. It felt like from the outside looking in that student-athletes, national champions and all, were doing well when they really weren’t,” Flair said.

On the UNCA Athletics Mental Health and Support page, the mission statement states that while the athletic department is dedicated to the overall well-being of student-athletes and coaches, mental health should be a priority along with sport-specific practices, therapy, nutrition, and health care. and strength training.

Student-athletes can contact Dr. Jones and mental health advisor Dr. Jaderius Jackson to find mental health care via email [email protected] And [email protected]

Leave a Comment