Lack of sports and toll on mental health considered bigger threat than Covid-19

Conor Sukel, staff writer

The sports world along with pretty much everything else around it was altered mid-March of 2020. With every state nearing the end of their winter sports season many of those athletes missed an opportunity to play in their last game or win a state championship. While spring athletes never got their season started. 

For many high school athletes their sport becomes a massive part of their lives. Their sport provides a way for them to distract themselves from any stress in their life. With sports being postponed, gyms having strict restrictions, and being isolated from their teammates along with other social events being canceled creates a build up of emotions with no normal way for these student-athletes to let them out. 

Unfortunately, without being able to play their sport or attend training sessions for their sport in a normal capacity, student athletes are left feeling alone with a multitude of negative feelings and emotions. Dr. Trent Petrie, a sports psychologist from University of North Texas, conducted a study of 6,000 student athletes across Division 1, 2 , and 3 sports that showed 22% of student-athletes had a clinical level of depression, while another 26% presented subclinical levels of depression. Those numbers may seem low at first glance but if combined that means about 48% of student athletes are experiencing some level of depression. 

The most recent publicized case of a high school student athlete taking their own life in Illinois came out of Glenbrook North High School. The quarterback, Dylan Buckner, held the school’s career pass completion record with his senior year still ahead of him to try and set more records. Off the field the quarterback was considered a great student as he was set to attend MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. The athlete took his own life on January 7. According to a statement released by the family, “…the isolation of remote learning and having no sports made his depression worse to the point of suicide.” Some parents believe suicide is a bigger threat than COVID-19.

Another study conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) early in the pandemic asked student-athletes about their stress levels and what was causing their stress. Of the 37,000 student-athletes polled, 80% of them mentioned they were having a hard time training with their sport due to not having access to an appropriate training facility leaving them without their normal outlet for their stress. 

Most colleges and universities have better facilities than high schools simply because they have more money and they use their facilities as a way to get potential student-athletes to attend their school. If 4 out of every 5 athletes are having trouble finding a way to train for their sport and release their stress, it is logical to believe even more high school student-athletes are having an even harder time. 

Illinois isn’t the only state that has student-athletes committing suicides throughout the pandemic. In late September, 2020 a 13-year-old female volleyball player took her own life in Ridgefield, Washington. The girl’s parents said she had not shown any signs of suicidal thoughts or depression in the weeks leading up to her death. Even though people may not always show them things there are a variety of warning signs, “Warning signs may include talking about feeling hopeless, talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, increasing use of drugs or alcohol, extreme mood swings, withdrawal or isolating oneself, sleeping too little or too much, feeling like a burden to others, living recklessly, acting anxious or agitated, or showing rage,” said Joliet West Social Worker, Ms. Gunier. 

According to a recent article from the Washington Post titled, “A Hidden Crisis,” youth suicide was already at a record high before the pandemic, with increases among teens every year from 2007 to 2017, “…it is the second-leading cause of death among high-school-aged students, and some researchers fear the mental health consequences of coronavirus restrictions on not only schools but also sports could help elevate those numbers.”

Students and student-athletes, adults understand that we are going through an unprecedented time and they are willing to help us, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Check-in on friends from time to time and see how they are doing to make sure everything with school and their mental health is okay. If you begin to experience the warning signs or are feeling depressed and don’t want to talk to your parents there are plenty of other options like school counselors and social workers; there are even plenty of hotlines to talk to someone anonymously. Sports and normal activities including school will return in time. It has been a long time but we have all come this far so keep pushing and trusting that your sport will return. Adults are trying to help. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association sent a 4 page letter and a Congressman with three student-athletes sent a letter to Gov. Pritzker encouraging him to allow sports to be played. Of course that doesn’t mean sports will resume but it does mean we as young adults are not in this alone. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week said they continue to review when sports will be possible.

The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.