Addressing student athletes’ mental health

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Many people struggle to keep their mental health in check and that includes the students at the University of Dallas. The athletes in particular have shared what their mental health means to them. As an athlete, it is difficult to balance their academic, athletic and social lives, but that also includes their personal life and mental well-being.

Chloe Ilagan, a senior biology major and a volleyball player, shared how important mental health is to her as an athlete. She emphasized the struggle of her teammates with balancing the rigorous schoolwork of UD.  Meeting UD’s schoolwork demands can get overwhelming for her and teammates and sometimes has led to mental breakdowns, especially during midterm week. 

Ilagan expressed that the freshmen seem to have the most trouble with their mental health, especially those who are biology majors due to the extensive workload. The seniors gain maturity as the years go by, but the freshmen are still getting used to the academic work at UD. She added that it is particularly straining as an athlete for the intense time commitment for the sport.

Ilagan listed some of her personal routines for caring for her mental health. Coming from Houston, Texas, she shared how FaceTiming her family, friends and her boyfriend helps make the distance smaller. As a Catholic, she also relies on her faith and prays to God for strength when she feels vulnerable: 

She also mentioned that one of her other self-care methods is breathing exercises. 

Illagan shared, “I do breathing exercises before I go to bed. It’s called square breathing. So I breathe in for four seconds, hold in for four seconds and then let out for four seconds.”

Ilagan praises that her coaches play a key role in making sure her and her teammates are okay. Within the women’s volleyball team, Coach Kelli Trautmann conducts one-to-one meetings to check up on her athletes with care and respect.

There is potential for more involvement from the athletic department. As an option to improve mental health awareness within athletes and students, Ilagan recommends creating a club or organization that prioritizes acceptance in order to address mental health without being exclusive to the athletes.

Matthew Villareal, a sophomore business major and a soccer player, shared how taking care of mental health is important for everybody. He shared that low mental health can affect an athlete’s performance on a field by bringing down their confidence.

Even though Villareal talked about freshmen struggling more than the upperclassmen, he believes age doesn’t determine how someone feels mentally all the time because life is unpredictable. 

He also spoke about how mental health struggles can be difficult for both athletes and regular students with time management and academics. Villareal distinguishes that athletes struggle with the traveling aspect of sports. Student athletes are not fully excused from academics since UD values academics highly and are expected to complete their assignments.

Villareal’s way of destressing is by going to the gym and listening to music. He said that taking a step back and understanding how crazy life can be is a way to relieve stress. He also advises everyone to try and include friends into their busy schedules in order to encourage leaning on each other during demanding times.

“You have to manage your schedule, but you also have to be able to be social, go out and have friends,” Villareal said. “We all need friends for each other to be there for each other to talk about things.”

He encourages, as a possibility, for the school to invest in a more spacious gym for those who use the gym as a refuge. He also encourages more school events in order to provide opportunities for everyone to socialize in a safe environment and to bring more awareness on mental health.

Villareal shared universal advice for all athletes and students alike as someone who experienced highs and lows. 

“There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, so no matter how hard things get in your life, and no matter how down you feel, there’s always an out to it,” he said. “The way you feel isn’t a permanent feeling.”

Being an athlete makes it more difficult to balance mental health with the demands of  traveling and doing schoolwork at the same time. There are many outlets on campus if you look for them such as friends, family, counseling and coaches. If a student is struggling with mental health, it is important to look for help or an outlet to address it. 

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