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Battling Bishops Battling Mental Health Issues

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

By: Kristen Beachy

Athletics are an integral part of campus culture at Ohio Wesleyan: 37 percent of students play on one of the 24 varsity teams and approximately 70 percent stays active through either varsity, club, or intramural sports. Stressors unique to student athletes can pose physical and mental health risks. OWU student athletes share how drawing awareness to mental health issues can help them win on and off the field.

Senior Jacey Scheffel, captain of Ohio Wesleyan’s cheer team, is one of the student athletes navigating mental stressors. “I've been diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and panic disorder, so being in charge of a group of sixteen girls at any given time can be a challenge,” Scheffel ‘21 said. Being a captain has further affected her mental health, “especially considering the fact that club sport teams are run by captains.” Varsity sports, which often have more funding available, are supervised by a team of coaches. With her club sport consuming significant time and energy, Scheffel shares focusing on schoolwork often proves to be a struggle.

With student athletes closely interacting with their teams on a daily basis, stressful interactions with coaches and teammates can add an additional stressor. Senior student Stephanie DeSoto shared that two different environments could be felt even when comparing the two different sports they played at Ohio Wesleyan, affecting their experience.

“At times, being a student athlete has impacted my mental health negatively, but this was also in the context of a team with a coach who didn’t do the best by their players and often added more stress to all of our lives,” DeSoto ‘21 explained. “However, being on a team like the lacrosse team has positively impacted my mental health, as athletics give a good outlet.”

While managing the load that comes with being a college student, athletic responsibilities of practices, work outs, and team meetings add an additional weight. Although the school has counseling services, Scheffel expressed concern about lack of accessibility for student athletes, who usually have a full schedule. “There is honestly no time for student athletes to access these services without sacrificing time that’s dedicated to things like class and classwork,” Scheffel said.

Balancing academics and athletics can pose a challenge, which athletic teams seek to prevent through efforts such as study tables. “While it can still be difficult to manage time, which can be a stressor, overall things haven’t been too bad,” DeSoto shared. Amelia Richardson ‘21, a middle blocker on the volleyball team, agreed. “Time management is something that is really key in being a student athlete, and my teammates and coaches help me to stay motivated to stay on top of my school work.”

The Bishop athletes also emphasize the importance of effective coping mechanisms and positive outlets for stress. “I try to make time to relieve my stress by either hanging out with friends or allowing myself time to rest and just be with myself. Even with a busy academic and athletic schedule, I think it is really important to find time to focus on yourself,” Richardson said. Jacey Scheffel also believes that seeking support from your teammates can help. “Not only do I have my friends and family that I can talk to, but an entire team of girls.”

However, more attention needs to be drawn to the stressors that student athletes face so that they can get professional help outside of their friend group. One way to bring awareness to the stressors that students face is by “normalizing communicating about mental health struggles with coaches,” DeSoto said. Scheffel added that a stereotype exists that student athletes have it easy, particularly at a Division III school.

“The only way to break that stereotype and bring light to student athlete mental health is by not being scared to talk about it,” Scheffel said.

Coaches play an essential role in making students feel comfortable to open up by offering an environment in which mental health is not stigmatized. “This would best be helped by the coaches stating this explicitly and really creating a safe space for their players to come to them if they have any issues,” DeSoto said. In addition, DeSoto talked about student athletes often lacking awareness of where mental health support can be found and the importance of having resources “readily available and accessible for students.”

In an athletic climate, often marked by traits like perseverance and resilience, little room can be left to open up for those struggling with their mental health. DeSoto shared that “mental health isn’t largely talked about in athletics.” Students also indicate that in order for Ohio Wesleyan to address mental health issues among its athletes, they must make improvements within the Athletic Department as a whole.

“From a larger perspective, the athletic department, headed by Doug Zipp, isn’t always incredibly receptive to new ideas that would aid student athletes with mental health issues,” DeSoto explained.

“The athletic department as a whole could do a better job of acknowledging and talking about student athletes' mental health struggles,” Richardson added. While observing that there “is not a lot of conversation in the department as a whole about how student athletes could be struggling,” Richardson also noted that having these conversations could be beneficial for the overall team. “I believe bettering individuals' mental health can improve their athletic performance.”

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