Core Sports

The invisible opponent

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By Aluen Navarro-Fenoy

Lucia Kalmeyer, a volleyball player at Durham College, suffers from anxiety and depression, and says that being a student-athlete takes a toll on her, and it isn’t something that she would recommend for everyone.

“I think a lot of people underestimate what it takes to be a student-athlete because not only are you worrying about your sport and school. Sometimes other people have jobs that they have to take into account – trying to find a common ground can be hard sometimes,” says Kalmeyer.

Having problems with your mental health can push you to act in indescribable ways.

Many students feel stressed juggling school work, a part-time job and their everyday social lives.

There have been moments where former Humber student, Cece Girma, would have a full-blown breakdown over things she couldn’t control.

“There was a time where I let it (mental health issues) consume me, to the point where I was missing weeks of class and I was constantly feeling bad for myself. Even the thought of going to class pushed me to several breakdowns,” says Girma.

Girma suffers from anxiety and major depressive disorder, which pushed her to drop out of school.

Girma made the decision to defer from school to get her mind together.

Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group, according to CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)

A lot of pressure comes with being a student, a heavy course load is just the start.

College athletes also deal with the added pressure of being present for games, practices and maintaining a high average in their courses to secure a spot on the sports team.

“It was always stressed to me that I was a student-athlete and not the other way around,” says a former hockey player at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Kasia Henley.

Most of these students live their everyday lives with mental health issues in silence. Many feel ashamed and burdensome.

Henley felt those emotions firsthand before realizing that talking about it would actually help her.

“I started playing poorly because I was depressed and I felt like I owed my coaches an explanation,” says Henley.

Henley says she felt silly for keeping her depression bottled up.

Kalmeyer still finds it difficult telling people that she has anxiety and depression because she doesn’t want special treatment from anyone, or to be viewed differently.

However, some don’t feel the same way. Some stop playing, which affects their mental health and causes more problems for them.

Although, attitudes are changing, the stigma remains. People struggling with their mental health face prejudice and discrimination.

With campaigns such as Bell Lets Talk, people are becoming more informed.

According to CAMH, in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem.

You might know someone who seems perfectly fine on the outside, but inside, they’re battling their darkest demons.

Psychiatrists suggest attending events to create more awareness on the severity of mental illness.

Henley explained that going with a friend as a support system could help and be beneficial.

A former hockey player and student at Amherst College, Rebecca Johnson, says one thing that helped her feel better was playing hockey.

Hockey took her mind off stress and put her in a world of its own.

“When I play hockey my mind is on the game, I usually don’t think of whats going on in the outside world,” says Johnson.

Johnson’s problems with social anxiety and bulimia are almost invisible when sports occupy her mind.

“My mind felt like a constant battle and there was no way to win. I always felt like I needed to be perfect, do better, be better and be the absolute best. It was mentally and physically exhausting,” says Johnson.

Johnson found help through speaking to friends, family and therapists.

Johnson works part-time at a children’s hospital and says working alongside people who cope with mental illness is empowering.

She also describes herself as the same person, despite having these mental health issues.

Mental performance consultant, Jocelyn Poirier who works for the CSPA (Canadian Sports Psychology Association) helps athletes one-on-one with their mental health and performance. She says it’s easy for athletes to look at the negatives.

“Remember all the strengths that you do have, take a minute to think of all the positives, how far you’ve come, all the accomplishments you have, because people find it a lot easier to look a the negatives when theres a lot of positives as well,” says Poirier.

Poirier helps athletes that she works with calm down by reminding them to put things into perspective and look at the bigger picture, take three big breaths and to remember that it’s not the end of the world if you lose a game.

Poirier also thinks it’s good to give people the benefit of the doubt because many issues lie under the surface.

“Trusting those people, whether it be, friends, family, teammates, coaches, they care about you and they want to help,” Poirier added.

A common therapy is feeling the comfort in speaking to others.

According to CAMH, people with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely than the general population. Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy.

Poirier says it’s healthy and important to speak to others.

Colleges and Universities in Ontario offer on campus counselling services for those who feel overwhelmed and looking for support.

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