The many responsibilities juggled by college athletes are taking a toll on their mental health, according to a Student-Athlete Well-Being study conducted by the NCAA in 2021.
Based on responses from 9,808 athletes across the country, the consensus is clear: managing one’s mental health as a collegiate student athlete is challenging.
Kitty Masayda, 20, of Mount Saint Mary College in New York has experienced her share of this stress, as a junior nursing student and a captain of her swim team.
Sports have always been an important part of life for her. She and her six siblings—yes, six—were homeschooled growing up, so getting involved with sports was a great way to meet friends and stay active.
“I liked that you were always trying to better yourself and test your limits,” she said. “It taught me how to move my body, listen to it and to give it what it needs.”
For the most part, swimming is a positive part of her day and even helps Masayda manage stress from other sources, like coursework. Still, her love of being active was strained when arriving to campus at MSMC, which was completely foreign to her.
“This is my first time actually feeling nervous or emotional swimming, because it feels more real at this level,” the swimmer explained. “I’m representing something bigger than myself.”
As a nursing student, she’s mastered the art of “bugging” her professors for help in course material. But reaching out on a personal level, as an athlete?
“I can’t help but feel weak calling out for help,” she admitted. “If I can’t help myself, what can someone else do for me?”
Masayda is not alone in feeling this way. In fact, less than half (47%) of participating athletes in the NCAA study said they would feel comfortable seeking help from a provider on campus. Roughly the same number of athletes believe mental health is a priority to their athletics department. It seems there’s lots of work to be done in order to make athletes feel more supported—including those at MSMC, like Masayda.
“I’m sure help is there if you look for it, but it would be nice to have more knowledge of different specific resources on campus,” she said.
Masayda’s swim coach has been an incredible resource—but she knows that someone in the counseling field with expertise on athletes could be a great option for others who may not feel comfortable talking to a coach or teammate. Overall, she says the best way to combat potential feelings of stress, anxiety or other concerns is to start a conversation with someone you trust.
“As hard as it is, you just have to talk about it, have a conversation with anybody,” Masayda stressed. “It can check you.”