“It’s good to ask for help if you need it,” said Sofia Gritzali, from Greece who does more than dribble a basketball for the University of Cincinnati women’s basketball team. (UC). Gritzali and his teammate Jillian Hayes, a second-year guard, are just two of the countless student-athletes who bear the mental burden of two full-time jobs.
With the COVID-19 pandemic opening the doors for athletes to start talking about mental health, athletes like Gritzali and Hayes hope these conversations can lead to real change regarding mental wellness in sport.
“The more we normalize mental health, the less stigma there will be,” said UC senior psychologist at University Health, Dr Christine Muller-Held.
Historically, mental health has not had a big platform in sports. Especially in recent times, athletes face unique mental health issues due to the unrealistic expectations held on them.
As Hayes completed her freshman year at UC as a Division 1 student-athlete during the pandemic, she says she is entering her sophomore year with a positive outlook and will continue to prioritize her mental health. .
“Knowing that you have a whole university and an administration behind you has helped,” Hayes said.
Most recently seen at the Tokyo Olympics, athletes like Simone Biles use their platform to show that it’s okay not always to be well. For Gritzali, she says the game is 80% mental and 20% physical and says tennis player Naomi Osaka’s decision to walk away from press conferences and tournaments earlier this year was admirable.
“I admire athletes who choose to talk about [mental health] because it’s their choice to share something like that, they have a lot of stories to tell, and they who choose sanity, i admire, ”said Gritzali.
Muller-Held says that Yerkes Dodson’s Law – a bell-shaped curve model that demonstrates the relationship between pressure and performance – is the ideal representation of the balance that hangs over student-athletes. The model shows that some pressure is beneficial for student-athletes, but too much pressure can cause damaging mental strain.
“Athletes have their peak performance at optimal stress levels,” said Muller-Held.
The forced pressure leaves athletes on the downward slope of the model curve, resulting in intense mental load, explains Muller-Held.
Athlete or not, every student is on a journey with balanced responsibilities, and Gritzali says to embrace the process, be yourself and accept help. In addition, mental and physical health are equally important success factors, says Muller-Held.
“If people treated mental health the same way they do physically, we wouldn’t have the stigma we have,” Muller-Held said. “If we don’t have these conversations, we [will] never break the stigma.
Muller-Held says that a campus environment that welcomes vulnerability and conversations around mental wellness is essential for change. The pupils should think to themselves: “how am I going to implement [mental health] in the sphere of influence that I have? said Muller-Held.
“Mental health care is health care,” said Muller-Held. “People who listen must also be ready to speak. It has to go both ways to really have an impact.