Student athletes’ mental health suffers during pandemic

By Brigid Driscoll and Jacob Trasen / New Mexico News Port

When the pandemic first hit University of New Mexico baseball player Jack Silverman, realizing the team might not be able to play, it took a toll on his mental health thinking about what his future looked like.

That’s one silver lining of the COVID era, student athletes told News Port reporters: a reorganization of priorities that put self-care closer to the center.

Silverman said he has understood himself more as he has gotten older and has started to put himself before others. He stated, “I learned when I put my mental health first that I can get a lot more done. Managing my time wisely has opened so many doors for me.”

Over the past two years many college students have struggled with balancing school, work and social lives, but student athletes’ have had the added stress of practice, traveling for games and playing while wearing masks. Being a competitive athlete adds pressure to perform at their sport and in academics while maintaining a positive public image.

“I have found it more challenging to balance school and my sport because during the pandemic I considered it more of a break. And then to go back full speed was an adjustment that we all had to get used to,” University of New Mexico softball player Lauren Garcia said.

During the fall 2020 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) survey of 24,974 student-athletes, students’ self-reported mental health concerns were two times higher than normal. Student-athletes said their biggest worry was academics.

Athletes said they were stressed out by not being able to play. Most of all, student-athletes just want to be able to find that school-sport balance and be able to continue to enjoy participating in their sport.

“Since COVID, I feel softball is a little more meaningful,” Garcia said. “There was a period of time that we weren’t allowed to play, so now every second counts because you never know what could happen.”

One of the most concerning aspects to this mental health issue that is being seen is that not all student-athletes even know how to find the help that they might need. According to the NCAA study, only about 70% of student-athletes said they knew how to access mental health support in their area.

Silverman said he was glad that the pandemic forced him to address his mental health.

“I asked a woman at the front desk of the SHAC if she could help put me in contact with a psychologist,” Silverman said. “She got me connected with one, and I now talk to them every two weeks and now I feel that the SHAC has already helped me so much.”

Brigid Driscoll and Jacob Trasen are reporters for New Mexico News Port and can be reached at nmnewsport@gmail.com.