Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Suicide Prevention Month: Athletes and Suicide

As September comes to a close, so does Suicide Awareness Month, but should be in the spotlight year round.Sports, athletes, and poor mental health at first glance may seem like a game of "one of these things does not belong", as usually athletes appear to be stronger than an average person in both body and mind, but these people are often at higher risks at suicide due to added personal and external pressure athletes face.

Athlete and Suicide Facts

The facts, however, show that athletes are not immune to mental health issues. Just looking at a recent study of NCAA Athletes shows that the annual rate of suicide for male athletes was 1.35 per 100,000, and for female athletes it was 0.37 per 100,000. Among black athletes, the annual rate was 1.22 per 100,000, and among white athletes, the rate was 0.87 per 100,000 students. The highest rate of suicide occurred in football, with a rate of 2.25 instances of suicide per 100,000 athletes, which is partially explained by the result of head trauma. 

Generalizing these numbers, it's about 2 suicides per 200,000 athletes a year. A low estimate are that there are 460,000 NCAA Athletes competing each year. This means every year there will be approximately 4 student athletes who commit suicide each year. Over the 9 year study, there were 477 student-athlete deaths, and suicide represented 35 of these deaths, and the leading preventable cause of death during this time. This study doesn't include high school athletes or professional athletes, where in that case the number would likely be tripled. 

Preventable Disease

Often athletes are put on pedestals, basically local heroes, leading it to be difficult to accept their own personal struggles when everything would lead it to appear they are living the dream. However like mentioned previously, these deaths can be avoided with increased awareness, and removing the stigma of mental health. Nobody looks down on athletes when they have a ligament tear and have to take care of themselves or go to extra rehab, however as long as the cloud over mental health issues remain, student-athletes will not get the help they need as they try to ignore their problems.  

Photo credit ESPNW

The recent ivy league freshman, Madison Holleran, who committed suicide last year wrote in her note to her family, "I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out, and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in" and friends and family spoke how in the months leading up to her death she often spoke of her unhappiness and pressure she felt, and often discussed transferring. 

 A football player at Ohio State University wrote in his final note to his mother that his "head was messed up", and a former Chicago Bears safety's lone message in his note was requesting his brain be studied for possible damage. Shortly before junior Seau's death as well, he made a comment to his friends and family that he wanted his brain to go to science for the study of concussive injuries. 

What you can do

The goal of Suicide Prevention month is to help raise awareness and get others educated. When talking to teammates, friends, or family members try to pay attention. Usually they aren't looking for a fix, rather just looking to feel validated and not have their feelings minimized. Often those that appear to have so much going right for them feel guilty complaining and don't understand what they are feeling, and often there are "red flags" that survivor's family and friends only realize when it's too late.

Many schools require an ECG to prevent this sudden and preventable disease, but data shows the number of student athletes' death caused by cardiovascular disease is in fact lower than the amount of student athletes who commit suicide every year. It's pretty routine to have concussion screening to help prepare for a concussion, why not a similar mandatory screening for mental health at the beginning of the season as well? Once depression is treated as a real mental illness rather than a sign of weakness, these suicides will continue to happen. Some of the world's most influential, strong, and powerful leaders have suffered with depression, including Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Beethoven.

Depression in Athletes Quick Facts

Who Suffers from Depression?

  • 20 Million People in US
  • People with family history of depression
  • 10% of those are under 18
  • Women are impacted twice as much as men

Symptoms of Depression

  • Constant sense of fatigue
  • Increased desire to sleep
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of appetite, changes in weight
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
Causes of Depression in Athletes
  • Genetic Predispositions
  • Injury
  • Over Training
  • Pressure by Coaches, teammates, self
  • Lack of Time
  • Feeling Overwhelmed

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Home, (bitter) Sweet, Home: Why visiting your old school sucks

My old university will always be home to me; however unlike past visits where I felt as if I was returning home, this time I left with a different feeling. This feeling can only be described as touring your childhood home where you no longer live, and feelings of nostalgia and sadness for days that once were follow you everywhere.

Every step I took on this campus was familiar. I knew exactly how long it would take to walk from the Pit to the Old Well, and the fastest route to get to Student Health. Memories of people watching in the quad, lunch dates with teammates, and even a few familiar teachers that most likely have no clue who you are anymore.

While I people watched this time, the feeling was different. It was as if myself and all my memories were just ghosts, as people were now living their own lives and making new memories. It was a feeling of returning to a childhood home, now inhabited by strangers as you notice all the changes that they have made. With every new turn on campus, a new memory would be brought back. Visiting my freshman dorm where more time was spent laughing than sleeping, the old weight room where probably just as many tears were shed as sweat. I couldn't help but feel jealous that these people still have time to write chapter of their book, and mine and all of my friends books were already complete.

I try to go back and visit a few times a year, so maybe I've always felt this way and it's now just hitting me my last friends' still remaining will also be graduating in May, but I think the hopeful thing is I can look back and have no regrets. Thinking about the things I regretted at the time, like not getting enough sleep before weights or not having the best luck dating, are things now have turned into all of my friends' favorite memories and things we can laugh at.

The first time I visited Carolina after I graduated it felt like I still belonged, and as if my new "home" was just a place I was visiting. I looked around and my family was still there, and everything was how I left it. The next few times the changes were evident, but I still felt at home. At my first alumni even this past weekend, I felt old, out of date, and like I was a true visitor, intruding on these students in a place that I no longer belonged.

Carolina will always be home, the people I met there will always be family, but things are different. Who would have thought that tripping over bricks or dodging scooters in the crosswalk would be things I would miss, but it's become evident that the beautiful campus isn't what made my experience what it was, rather all the people I made my memories with. It serves as a good reminder that going through the motions is never the answer, and although one chapter is over, another one is always beginning.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Beginning of the Year Advice for Athletes - Retired Athlete Problems

Well into Year 2 of the "real world" and year three of being a retired athlete, certain aspects of my college career are becoming more clear to things that I don't necessarily regret, but I wish I valued more at the time. As the new school year has recently started, although I can't go back, I think it'd be cool to help others value their once in a lifetime experience.

The main thing I've reflected on is that cherish the relationships you will make, and the opportunity to make friends. Looking back, all of my summers were spent at the Volleyball house. The friendships and memories I made with my teammates far surpassed any bonds made just on the court, plus being able to split rent 7 ways is a pretty nice hook-up too. These girls will always be my friends, however I do question how many nights we spent too tired to make plans or just watching Netflix that we could have been exploring different houses, meeting new people, and making even more bonds. Being an athlete it's really hard to make friends. Usually any attempt at plans will be met with "I can't, I have practice," but unlike the rest of the population, this won't deter other athletes from making future plans, rather they'll probably quickly understand when you have weights, meetings, and practice and will quickly find a time that does work. My introvert tendencies paired with my genuine laziness prevented me from making many friends outside the volleyball team, and although luckily for me they were all I really needed, I do think I would have liked to branch out more when everyone's eager to make friends.

This brings me to my next point- it's hard to make friends in the real world. If you're like any of my class, many of us traveled to attend college, and many will travel again after college either back home or to new parts of the country for the next steps. This means you're thrown back into the "making friends" stage of life, and unlike sports where friendships are naturally made- you've got to work at them. Having athletics as a common bond is something that shouldn't be taken lightly- as people in the "real world" may have all these crazy and confusing interests. Some that I have stumbled upon include reading, cooking, or even playing sports just for "fun." This means it's time to start evolving some other interests and hobbies, something that looking back could have easily been done in college.

Finally, the common theme in most of my posts, is to enjoy your time fully. My freshman year I was miserable- benched, with no friends, in a new state, recently dumped, and looking to transfer. Six years later I look back on my "miserable" time and can't help but think how lucky I was, and even my worse day there, wasn't so bad. This year is when my freshman my senior year, have become seniors themselves. I don't feel like my glory years were that far in the past, and I think everyone can vouch how quickly four years truly does pass. You may not be able to control your relationship statuses, how often you see your family, or your playing time in college, but you can control your happiness, and I challenge you to be happy and enjoy every minute of the sometimes miserable ride.