Student-athletes encounter many struggles when competing in a college sport—scheduling, injuries, and worrying about their performance, to name a few. Universities provide resources to help student-athletes through many of these difficulties, so that they can thrive under the pressure of their environment.
But there is one hardship that many face, perhaps without ever knowing about it or receiving the help they need to combat it. This “hidden opponent” is mental illness. Despite mental health awareness increasing in our society, a stigma remains. This is especially true in the world of sports. Mental health is often seen as less serious than a physical injury, because it may not physically affect an athlete’s ability to play. But it will still deeply affect their mindset and ability to participate in a sport.
I was interested in learning more about this because I am a first-year student-athlete, preparing for the challenges of playing in college. It is especially difficult this year with the realities of the pandemic and online learning. I know many other athletes who have faced disappointments and problems with mental health this year, or throughout their athletic careers, so I know how relevant this topic is.
I know athletes often have trouble discussing their mental health due to the stigmas surrounding those conversations. Those suffering from these problems often refrain from acknowledging their internal conflicts and seeking to get help out of fear that they will be judged, or even punished. Student-athletes often worry about the consequences that come from missing practices or struggling during competition due to their mental health, because coaches or teammates may not see it as a valid excuse.
So how is Arcadia addressing the stigma around student-athletes with mental health struggles? Our campus has recently added a chapter of The Hidden Opponent, an advocacy group for mental health awareness for student-athletes. Their goal is to advocate, educate, and support student-athletes confronting these issues.
The Hidden Opponent is encouraging student-athletes at Arcadia to open up about their mental health struggles and have those conversations within teams and the athletic community. Student- athletes may not know what resources or opportunities are available, so the organization wants to help those students gain access to the support they need. Currently, the chapter offers an Instagram account, a website, and student campus captains as resources for raising awareness and reaching students through the initiative. They are also making efforts to add new resources and increase their availability at Arcadia.
This initiative is really a great addition to Arcadia athletics, and I believe will be beneficial to anyone who takes advantage of the resources and help they have to offer. Even if you do not get involved with The Hidden Opponent, or feel comfortable utilizing professional resources for mental health, I encourage you to be open and talk about any mental health struggles you may have. Silence can make you feel like you’re the only one suffering. The Arcadia community is open and understanding, and there will always be someone willing to listen and help.
Mental health struggles are a real issue. If you need help, don’t hesitate to seek it. There’s no shame in that game.