College-athletes and mental health: Toxic stigmas lead to significant losses

In the past two months, five college student-athletes have committed suicide, bringing the issue of college-athletes’ mental health to the forefront of discussions.

On March 1, 22-year-old Stanford women’s soccer goalkeeper Katie Meyer was found dead in her dorm room. Her death was later ruled a suicide.

One month later on April 2, Binghamton men’s lacrosse player Robert Martin died by suicide.

One day after Martin’s death, D2 Northern Michigan University track-and-field athlete Jayden Hill passed away by suicide. 

Shortly following Hill’s passing, two other Division 1 college-athletes, UW-Madison track athlete Sarah Shulze and JMU softball player Lauren Bernett, took their lives as well.

This is a result of the culture of college sports and the challenges players face on a day-to-day basis, which have taken a toll on both their mental and physical health.

Many student-athletes become lost along the way of their sports career because they put all of their self-worth into what they can do on the track, court or field. They might begin to believe that they aren’t anything more than an athlete and they won’t ever be.

Since the training of college athletes is so intense, injuries are bound to happen and when they do, athletes may have a very difficult time dealing with them. Taking time off or admitting they need to take time off is not an easy task for people who believe they risk looking weak and even selfish if they do so. 

Isabel Boufarah, WHS alumni and D3 runner at WashU, has dealt with many injuries which have plagued her freshman year seasons. “Dealing with injury has been one of the hardest things to do in my track career. Injuries always seem to take me down mentally and I still haven’t figured out the best mental approach,” said Boufarah. 

To help deal with the stress, she makes sure to consistently hang out with friends and also schedule alone time during the day to reflect and relax. 

There is a long-standing stigma against asking for help and it is especially prevalent in college athletes competing at elite levels, such as playing for a Division 1 school. 

According to, Sports Psychologist Matthew Sacco said, “If you’re tough, there’s a misconception that you should be able to just do it yourself. You don’t have to get help.” Withholding from necessary rest and recovery only hurts a player more, both physically and mentally. 

The truth is that we should not have to wait for these devastating student-athlete losses to occur in order to take action. We need to be proactive and take measures to prevent more deaths in the future. Taking steps to create a better environment, and healthier and happier student-athletes, needs to be prioritized.

Many athletes have taken the initiative to bring the importance of mental health in the spotlight. Just two days after Shulze’s death, Wisconsin softball player Tessa Magnamino said on Twitter, “Student athletes need to know that it is okay to ask for help; it is okay to prioritize yourself. Importantly, we need the proper resources and care teams available to us at every level so that we can ask for help and receive it adequately.” 

Along with Magnamino and countless other student-athletes becoming vulnerable, many school programs have also started to organize events devoted to athlete mental health. UW’s UNCUT Madison, a student-led and non-profit organization, organized an open discussion called “Tackle the Stigma” on May 3, inviting a student-athlete panel to speak. 

These recent efforts to prioritize mental health in athletes are a great start, but they are not nearly enough. It will take time and effort to break the stigma against mental health issues in student-athletes. However, if everyone, athletes or not, displays sympathy and understanding to student-athletes, we will be able to provide a safe space for them to express their true feelings and struggles.