Depression in Student-Athletes

Depression looks different for every single person, especially for student-athletes. Awareness for student-athlete mental health has come a long way because performance anxiety has become so normalized. However, a significant stigma still stands in front of depression and other mental illnesses. Performance anxiety has become accepted among the student-athlete community because it is perceived as anxiety triggered by wanting to perform well in your sport. It’s a lot deeper than that, but that’s a whole different tangent. On the other hand, struggling with depression as an athlete is severely stigmatized because it is perceived as not caring about your performance and the success of your team. But it is not at all like that; this is ‘inside the mind of a depressed athlete.’

When you first think of depression, you may recall one of the basic symptoms; lack of interest. However, depression looks a lot different in the life of someone who is high-functioning. Sometimes you may notice a decline in physical performance, but a lot of times, you won’t. On top of depression, already being an invisible illness, high-functioning also causes symptoms that are much harder to identify. Athletes, especially, are very high-achieving individuals, but there is so much more beneath the seemingly-perfect exterior.

Depression for athletes can come from many forces outside of the gym. Insomniac nights that drain all energy, making it difficult to perform during practice. An unbearing feeling of hopelessness, making it impossible to believe in your abilities. It’s not just constant weeping, overwhelming sadness, and suicidal thoughts, which is why those who are high-functioning go without help because they feel that they can push through the “sadness” without missing a beat.

However, that is the stigma that draws people away from seeking help. Openly admitting that something is wrong with you is not easy, doing so when you’re living a high-achieving lifestyle is even harder. Above that, athletes are built on a team mentality, thus compromising one’s mental health for the sake of the team is not uncommon. Yet, such a pressing issue directly impacting so many is so often brushed over.

I struggle with depression. Whether I’m on top of the world or can’t get myself out of bed, it’ll always be a part of my life. Depression can come in waves; sometimes, it’s a tsunami that overtakes my entire life, sometimes it’s a little wave that sneaks its way into my thoughts. I don’t have suicidal idealization, and I’m still excited by my passions. Though, that has not always been the case. I’m able to see the positive side in most situations because I’ve developed a sense of appreciation after I built myself back up from rock bottom. At the same time, it’s not always easy to see the positive side, and some days I just can’t.

Yes, I have a happy persona. I love that my personality brings others joy. However, I’m not always positive, despite what I display on the outside. Constant positivity is unattainable, and I don’t beat myself up for not being able always to be happy.


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