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Student-athletes are not immune from the risk of suicide. Colleges are taking notice.

In the weeks since the Stanford University football goalie Katie Meyer22, committed suicide last March, her grieving teammates are inseparable even when they are not training.

Coaches have modified practices to give athletes time and space to lose their friend and team captain. They offered to cancel the spring season, but the players said no.

“It’s difficult because there is no evidence on how to do it,” said Charlo.

There is no evidence because, until recently, it was relatively uncommon For student-athletes to die by suicide. But at least Five NCAA athletes, including Mayer, ended their lives in a period of two months last year. and a 2021 NCAA Poll It was found in May that student-athletes say they experience more mental health concerns, anxiety and depression than they did in surveys conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

Suicide is The second cause of death on the college campus. And despite the general rise in mental health concerns there, universities were caught off guard when student-athletes died by suicide. Traditionally, sports psychologists have focused on mental health as it relates to performance on the field. Their goal was to help athletes get better physically—jump higher, run faster—not overcome mental health crises, largely because of a misunderstanding that college athletes were less likely to have mental health concerns.

What There is little research About student athletes and mental health inconsistent and indecisive. But many experts thought athletes were isolated Risk factors such as depression and social isolationpartly due to Physical activity is good for mental health Kim Gorman, Director of Psychological Counseling and Services, said: Western Carolina University.

“They’re kind of used to pain — it’s not alien to them,” the organizational psychologist added. Matt MishkindDeputy Director Helen and Arthur E Johnson Center for Depression at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Still, the face of the athletes pressures that peers do not exert in general students, Such as balancing sports with schoolwork and fears of career-ending injuries and mistakes that can lead to cynicism amplified on social media. with Suicide rates among the general population are on the rise And the pandemic’s continuing effects in threatening well-being, high-profile suicides highlight how to deal with the unthinkable – and how to try to prevent it from happening again.

In the aftermath of such suicides, schools are re-evaluating the type of mental health support they provide. The psychologist said that creating a safe space to talk about grief with someone who understands suicide is a critical first step Doreen MarshallVice President, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“A lot of professionals are good at grieving, but suicide grieving can be a little different,” she said, because it often involves feelings of guilt and questions about why someone ended their own life.

Jenna Meyer, Katie’s mother and her husband, Steve, developed an initiative, Katie saveTo ensure that all students have a reliable defender to turn to in times of trouble. “We know the bravest thing you can do is ask for help,” she said.

Myers filed a file Wrongful death suit v. Stanford in November for allegedly ending their daughter’s life after receiving an email from the university about disciplinary action against her. Stanford University spokesperson Di Mostofi did not respond to questions about the case, but Stanford did It posted a statement on its website saying that Myers’ lawsuit contains misinformation and that the school does not agree with their claims that it was responsible for Katie’s death.

“Like other colleges and universities across the country, Stanford has seen a sharp increase in demand for mental health counseling and other wellbeing resources over the past two years,” Mostofi said. “Mental health remains not only an ongoing challenge but our most urgent priority.”

Students walk the campus of Stanford University
Students walk the campus of Stanford University.


After Mayer’s death, Stanford provided mental health counselors and a sports psychologist for her teammates, but the players said they pressured the university to pay for Zoom sessions with a specialist, Kimberly O’Briena clinical social worker in the Mathematics Program of the Department of Sports Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.

O’Brien has professional and personal experience dealing with sports and suicide: She was an ice hockey player at Harvard in 1998 when an athlete died at her college home. “I wasn’t very close to her, but she affected me deeply,” she said. “There were no resources to deal with it.”

This is changing. Colleges are trying Hire more mental health therapists To meet the growing and diverse needs. Some, including Stanford and Washington University, are working with Good foundation, which provides suicide prevention programs for high school and college students. And it’s not just crisis support at the Student Health Center: Faculties are setting up campuses globally postvention programs To prevent suicide infection.

Before the cross-country runner Sarah Schulz21, committed suicide at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in April 2022 The athletics department was expanding its professional mental health support staff from two staff to six to help the school’s 800 student-athletes, he said. David LacockDirector of the Department of Mental Health and Sports Psychology. The department, known until eight months ago as “Clinical and Sports Psychology,” changed its name in part because student-athletes were asking for mental health support.

In addition to scheduled appointments, athletic coordinators attend practices, team meetings, training sessions, and competitions to help normalize mental health concerns.

“Gone are the days when we would sit in our office and wait for people to knock on the door and talk to us,” Lacock said.

Student-athletes may also seek free assistance from university mental health professionals or community service providers under contract with the University of Wisconsin athletics department. And some school sports now monitor their teammates when coaches aren’t around, to let the team’s liaison know if they’re concerned about someone’s mental health.

“We don’t want anyone to slip through the cracks,” said colleague Maddie Mooney. “It’s a difficult time for everyone, and everyone grieves at a different pace and processes things differently.”

Teammate Victoria Heiligenthal, who shares a house with Schulz, said she avoided speaking to campus counselors for several months after her best friend’s death. “I just wanted to be alone or with my friends who really understood the situation,” she said.

Heiligenthal could not afford to stay in the house she and Scholz lived in, so the university put her and Mooney in a hotel for a week, then she stayed a while at Mooney’s apartment. Once she was back in place, her teammates, coaches, coaching staff, and psychologists examined her and Mooney.

But the real game changer for the two was linking up last spring with Stanford football players Sierra Engi and Naomi Girma (now playing professionally). Enge reached out after seeing something Mooney posted on Instagram. Since then, the four have met via Zoom. They have also spoken with O’Brien and will join her on the mental health committee at a conference in Boston in June to talk about their experience of losing a teammate to suicide.

“Hearing the parallels was moving,” Heilgenthal said. “It made you realize Maddy and I weren’t alone; there were others who were going through similar things to us.”

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Stanford, athletes honored their late teammates last fall by raising awareness about mental health. in key encounter In October, racers from Wisconsin painted green ribbons on the course, placed ribbons in their race packs, and Contribute a video. At Stanford’s game against UCLA in November, spectators wore green ribbons to highlight the importance of addressing mental health issues.

Stanford won the game, giving UCLA its first loss of the season. The victory was bittersweet. A year ago, Meyer was leading the team’s first mental health awareness game.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling “988” or the Crisis Text line by texting “HOME” to 741741.

KHN Kaiser Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and reconnaissance, KHN is one of the three major drivers in the KFF (Caesar Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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