There needs to be more awareness surrounding athlete mental health
As we near the date on which the latest COVID-19 measures will be lifted, Ontario University Athletics has officially announced a resumption of their sport competitions and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for many student athletes. However, there are many other ways in which the sports dynamic at universities may affect their mental health and their general wellbeing.
The recent spike in Omicron cases around Ontario prompted a lockdown that negatively affected many student athletes around the university. Not only did individuals have their pre-season heavily affected by the lockdowns but the amateur label placed on OUA also meant that teams that were supposed to have their season continue after the new year were required to wait for an additional few weeks.
The Marauders basketball teams are prime examples of students who suffered due to the measures implemented. Thomas Matsell, a player on the men’s basketball team, mentioned in a previous article that the forced pause was both frustrating and stressful. This sentiment is shared by many athletes who had to pause their activities. With that said, how much of an impact has all this had on their mental health?
In a recent study published by Sport Aide, the most common psychological problems that student athletes will suffer include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, problems related to the use of illicit substances and psychological changes following a concussion. Many of the mental health concerns already faced by student athletes were only exacerbated by the recent obstacles they faced in playing their sport.
Marauders on the women’s tennis team, including Jovana Paramentic, explained the various ways in which the recent measures exacerbated or caused negative mental health among players. Beyond the recent COVID-19 measures, athletes who play seasonal sports have the additional burden of ensuring they take care of their health during both on and off season.
“There are many things that can affect our mental health. They can be lockdowns, rejection or something else like missing out on the sporting action that you got used to. For seasonal players [like the tennis team], it is essential that we take care of our mental health throughout. When our season ends, we do lack that play time and I personally would miss being with the team and playing together,” said Paramentic.
Given the various ways in which student athletes have faced unique mental health challenges due to the recent COVID-19 measures, it is important that awareness surrounding athlete mental health increases. Only through greater awareness can solutions be developed.
“I feel as if there needs to be more awareness raised with regards to the current mental health issues athletes at universities feel on a daily basis. Although there have been some prompts made before at McMaster, I think that it’s more important now than ever. When there’s so much uncertainty regarding whether we will get to play at all or not, it creates a sort of anxiety among us that you just can’t let go of easily,” said Paramentic.
The pandemic had a significant effect on athletes’ mental health, from the cancelled 2020 season to all the delays that occurred in 2021.
“There are many reasons why an athlete’s mental health may be affected, however I feel that lately, the pandemic definitely had the highest toll on athletes, especially those which are in university. Although I can’t speak objectively, I feel that generally, the weird schedule and the ever-changing outcomes of lockdowns can confuse us and this is something that can lead us to struggle mentally,” said Paramentic.
Paramentic hopes, that in the future, McMaster can offer broader services to student athletes who are struggling with their mental stability.
“I would certainly like to see more action being done by the university in minimizing the struggles that athletes experience. Maybe setting up a more accessible counseling initiative for athletes would be useful, or anything similar,” said Paramentic.
Although OUA will resume their activities in early February, about a month after they were halted, there is still so much uncertainty regarding whether such pauses will occur again in the future. The mental health of student athletes will, without a doubt, always be vulnerable to such decisions as nobody knows exactly when the pandemic will come to a close.