If you are in a crisis and want to talk to someone, you can call National Suicide Prevention Lifelinedial 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or ask crisis text line, Tel: 741741. Both services are free, confidential, and available 24/7.

Many college students are going through a mental health crisis, but one group has seen a spate of suicides this year: female athletes.

Southern University and A&M announced Thursday that cheerleader Arlana Miller died shortly after a social media post detailing her mental health issues, according to NBC News. The news comes after three women died by suicide this spring: James Madison softball player Lauren Burnett; Sarah Shulze, a member of the UW-Madison track team; and Stanford football player Katie Meyer.

Students are talking about the issue and asking for more help dealing with the stress they feel as athletes. Last month, Vanderbilt lacrosse player Cai Lynn Bracken wrote an open letter to the college sports community after learning of another athlete’s death. She described her decision to take some time out of the sport to focus on her mental health and urged members of this community to better support players in need.

“When you are an adult in the field, you have a great responsibility – most importantly – to ensure that the young people you work with feel safe, loved and valued,” she wrote.

“Players, coaches, parents, fans, professors, administrators,” she continued, “if you can’t provide grace to the young people you work with while working, then you’re not for your position.”

This is not a new problem. But academics who focus on mental health and exercise say the situation has been particularly acute over the past year.

chronicle Talked to two experts on Friday about why there is a crisis and what universities can do about it. The interviews were conducted with Ellen J. Staurowsky, professor of sports media at Ithaca College, and Joy Gaston Gayles, senior advisor for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at North Carolina State University, who has published several articles on athletes and psychology. healthy. The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity, and have been combined for readability.

We’ve seen some high-profile cases of female athletes dying by suicide. Are they just getting more attention, or are you noticing this happening more?

Starowski: There is no doubt that athletes are experiencing unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety and other forms of mental health issues. A few years ago, a University of Michigan study showed that we have a group of athletes who really need mental health resources and support.

This is not a new issue, but some things – especially in this Covid era – are different at this moment. Worry about trauma to family resources. Switch to full zoom environment. Everyone wears out while going through it all. Many of our athletes and students feel social isolation. They really felt like they had to stick with it and keep everything that happened to themselves.

I don’t think higher education institutions fully understand the nature of the crisis and how we need to rethink the services we provide.

Over the past 10 years, we have indeed seen data rise in unprecedented ways. Now we have this time period that puts a bigger burden on young people.

Gales: This is definitely a crisis. I think we’ve seen growth. We’ve had three since March. This seems like a lot to me – a lot of suicide.

This is a major issue and I don’t think higher education institutions fully understand the nature of the crisis and how we need to rethink the services we provide so that we can provide students with the help they need.

How has this crisis affected athletes?

Starowski: These stories have a theme. Trying to balance academics, sports and other things in their lives — the demands have been escalating, said those close to these young women and college athletes more generally.

Anne S. Walters published a study in September 2021. In a group of college athletes she observed, 30 percent reported feeling severely overwhelmed and 25 percent felt mentally exhausted. Less than half felt they were getting enough help when they asked for it. That’s part of what makes me feel like we’ve got a lot more going on here than we’ve seen before. She also looked at how athletic trainers talk about training room needs. Less than half of athletic trainers said they use mental health screenings as part of their job.

College athletes face these stressors in situations that many of their classmates face.

College athletes face these stressors in situations that many of their classmates face. Their classmates were also mentally exhausted. Beyond that, we have more traditional factors and identity issues, what happens if I stop playing? If I am no longer part of my team, who am I? This question, can I even take a leave of absence from playing? Or can I temporarily stop my exercise? What will happen to my role in the team if I try to come back?

Gales: I have two children, both teenagers, who are both sports players. I’m also a student-athlete, and I guess my athletic experience is different from theirs. Back in my day, you strengthened it, you didn’t have to go through emotions. I just think today’s generation, they don’t want to do that. I don’t know what we should do.

When I think of Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, we shouldn’t be surprised that people opt out or say, what happened to me. I’m not going to do that. should be standardized.

Although they were applauded in some circles, the criticism persisted. Why are we doing this?

It’s not just a women’s problem, are there any particular pressures for female athletes in the college experience?

Starowski: We’re approaching the 50th anniversary of Title IX, and I think we’re still in a space where female athletes are being given mixed messages. On the one hand, as a culture, we are slowly but surely seeing the charisma and exciting capabilities of female athletes. But at the same time, women are also navigating social expectations around femininity. Female athletes have historically had more than one job to do. Not good enough. You also have to show that you are okay as a woman.

As female athletes become more successful in the age of social media, the benefit is that they gain more exposure. But at the same time, they are also affected by all these comments and the forces around them. This can be incredible to wear.

Another part is that the sports sector is under pressure on revenue. How does the constant information around generating more revenue and justifying the sports sector based on spectators and revenue translate into a culture run by coaches and athletes – managing all of this must be very difficult.

This can create a blind spot for coaches who rhetorically emphasize mental health, but when it comes to the requirements of the program, the program wins. Athletes don’t feel like they can fight it, or don’t fully realize that maybe it helps. I’m trying not to blame anyone for this as there are so many different things that could come into play.

Gales: I do think this overly masculine culture is bad for anyone, even those who are considered masculine. You toughen up, you smile and endure, and do your thing. When your emotions come up, you push them down because we need to win and dominate.

One of my PhD students had just completed a dissertation study on mental health programs at the Power Five institution, trying to understand an institution that was already leading the way in providing mental health programs for student-athletes on campus.

What have you seen useful for college?

Gales: Athletics departments can take advantage of what’s happening on college campuses and do a good job of cross-collaboration. There is always room to learn from others. We have to figure out how to normalize health-seeking behavior.

Also, allow students to do wrong. Because a lot can be learned from failure. But there is too much shame and guilt in our culture. This is especially true in sports culture.

Advertising mental health programs and services in these places is important to reduce stigma. We must better train coaches and sports department staff on how to take care of athletes. They make sure the athlete qualifies and hits all goals. But athletes need to know that they are valued, cared for, and that someone is taking care of them.

Most campuses do have mental health services, but they may not be sufficient for all mental health needs on campus. But it seems that part of the problem is that these services cannot be trusted and relied upon. How can universities solve this problem?

Starowski: What I keep hearing is that these resources are overburdened and that even with significant progress, the demand is much higher.

In the case of athletes, they do have questions about whether what they share is actually protected. We’ve heard stories of misunderstandings about the role and/or more deliberate confusion about the role of the sports psychologist. These roles may be designed more to support team performance than to provide mental health support.

There needs to be a very clear description. If a person is trying to make an athlete the best performer they can be, it’s a very different role and a different person than someone who might meet an athlete in terms of mental health.

Generally speaking, we have no industry standards for health and safety. There are NCAA rules on concussion protocols. But there is no enforcement mechanism. Things can vary greatly from school to school, conference to conference, and department to department. It has such an uneven response to the athlete.