Cal State Fullerton is getting ahead of the rise of diagnosed mental illnesses in college athletes

Mental illness diagnoses have drastically risen since 2013 among college-age students, including reports of mental illness among collegiate athletes.

According to the World Health Organization, one in four adults in the United States suffer from a mental illness, and symptoms begin to occur at the college age, which is 18 to 25.

Anxiety and depression are the most common diagnoses, rising from 18.5 percent to 25 percent among college students in a four-year period, while relationship concerns and alcohol abuse are on a downward trend, according to a 2017 study by Penn State University.

“Our student athletes lead very hectic, frustrating, busy lives. Every minute of their days is mapped out for them. There’s been a lot of concern with mental health and the NCAA put a big focus on mental health first in athletes,” said Jaime Potter, assistant athletic trainer.

In a 2015 study conducted by the NCAA, 30 percent of college athletes reported issues with anxiety and depression.

The pressure is higher for student athletes, as they balance a sport, academics, jobs, family and the occasional injury. Pressure on the field or court, coupled with personal stress, leads athletes to have various mental health needs.

“A lot of counselors come out and talk to us and make sure we know who they are, what to do and what they can help us with,” said Robert Coronado, a midfielder on the men’s soccer team.

One of the reasons mental illness has reached a new level of acceptance among the public is due to an increase in professional athletes coming forward about their own mental health issues.

Kevin Love, center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, opened up earlier this year to the Players’ Tribune about his struggles with anxiety. Love had a panic attack during a November game against the Atlanta Hawks, and did not return to the game.

Michael Phelps, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer, was diagnosed with depression after competing in the 2012 Olympics. His depression reached a point where he contemplated taking his own life.

Tyler Hilinski, the Washington State quarterback for the 2017 season, took his own life two weeks after finishing the football season. An autopsy revealed the 21 year old had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain injury commonly found with football players.

Thirty-five out of 477 deaths recorded by the NCAA in a nine-year period were suicides. That is the third highest cause of death among college athletes, behind accidents and cardiac arrest, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Totaled from every division of the NCAA, males outnumbered females who had mental illnesses. Per 100,000 deaths, 1.35 males died by suicide compared to 0.37 females.

As the NCAA increases its awareness of mental health with its athletes, universities are communicating with athletes about their well-being.

At Cal State Fullerton, the athletic training department works closely with Counseling & Psychological Services. Mental health screenings are required once a year by CSUF’s athletic department prior to every season for each player.

“It’s something that we collaborate with our Counseling & Psychological Services on campus. We do a screen together and they do all the treatment on their end,” Potter said.

Physical injuries, such as a broken leg or a sprained wrist, are obvious. But mental illnesses, like anxiety or depression, are hidden.

“There shouldn’t be a difference between physical injuries compared to mental health injuries, it should be very equal on the board,” Potter said.

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