Do I Matter? The Rising Rate of Student Athletes Committing Suicide and Why
In April alone, we lost three collegiate student-athletes to suicide. I wonder how many more deaths there were that weren’t broadcast by the media. Why does this keep happening, and why is no one talking about it?
This is usually how it goes. Scrolling on social media, I hear about a student athlete committing suicide, it is talked about, and posts are made. For a minute, it feels like people care. It feels like they are becoming more aware. I think to myself, “This is it; we are finally going to start to make change.” Then, the posts seem to die down after a few days. I don’t see any more posts or shares. I don’t see any more advocacy until we hear a few weeks later that another student-athlete took their life. Then, all the short-lived posts come back, and this is how the never-ending cycle continues.
Reading that another collegiate athlete chose to take their life wrenches my stomach. I feel this swarm of sadness consume me, and I feel guilty. I am a Division 1 student-athlete myself. I am a student athlete that deals with anxiety, depression, and more but most do not know this, why?
Most in society do not see us as “normal people.” The person taking their life is the happiest person on their team. They are the ones trying to lift others each day while they are suffering in silence. It is usually the happiest people that hide their secret pain.
In my sport, as I hate to admit, I am measured by what time I run on the track. It is hard to not equate my worth to how fast I run when this is what my sport revolves around. For others, they are measured by the requirements of their sports and how well they can achieve them.
Why does this keep happening? I think I’ve come to my own conclusion. There is simply not enough care for student-athletes. There is not enough care for us as people. We are not looked at as people that can suffer. We hold high expectations of ourselves, but also try to uphold the expectations that our parents, peers, or even universities place on us. We are not allowed to have bad days. We are not allowed to disappoint. But when we do, it feels like the biggest failure in the world. It feels unbearable and unfixable. This is why many choose to take their own lives.
A study conducted on the suicide rates of student athletes in 2015, states that students that are more integrated into supportive social networks tend to do better with social consequences. The study also argues that student athletes are given better opportunities to “succeed” with the better social networks they have. But it is then wrapped up by stating “Injury or inability to compete may not only interrupt their social structure but may also disrupt their concepts of identity and self-worth.” (Rao et al.) Student athletes are looked at to have the best social structure on the outside looking in. When really, they do not.
Reading this study, took me back to sitting in social psychology class, and having lectures focused on the ideas of isolation and self-worth. In social identity theory, we learn that many choose to equate their self-worth with other groups that they believe are of “high worth.” This is the case with us student-athletes. The big question is how do we solve this?
In social psychology, we also learn that the best way to make one feel like they are not in isolation is to comfortably surround them with social structure. This is the answer. Student athletes need to know that they matter beyond their sport. We need to know that we are alone by society creating safe spaces of vulnerability and rawness that can be shared universally.
Enough of promoting propaganda in the media. We are human and we are not perfect. Why should my mind and well-being not matter because I play a sport? Why do I need to see a new student athlete committing suicide every couple of weeks? And why is no one having this conversation?
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