The Mental Health of a Student Athlete

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds in the United States. This is the age young people should be learning in school, enjoying time with friends, and playing sports. Unfortunately, these notions can also contribute to anxiety and depression. Every aspect of a student athlete’s life is under a great deal of pressure; no matter how amazing their life might seem. Somebody on that court, field, pool; whatever sport you might play, is going through something. But the social stigma for mental health in high school/college, can make it feel impossible for a struggling person to speak up. I know this because I am a student athlete that suffers through anxiety and depression.

My name is Anthony Grimm. I’m a senior at Oakton High School, and I’ve been swimming since I was 4 years old. Growing up I was never sitting still. I had to go outside and break a sweat to feel entertained. I played baseball until I was 14 years old, but the first love I had for sports came in the swimming pool. I was a skinny, hyped-up, long-haired kid that you couldn’t keep out of the water. As I got older, competition and training became a lot more serious, so I chose to quit baseball and go all in on swimming. Freshman and sophomore year I started to dramatically improve. I was also acclimating to high school and building new relationships. There were so many great and amazing things going on in my life. Junior year was a completely different story.

After sophomore year, the expectations from myself and others started to weigh down on me. The success I had from the year before made me feel like I had to perform at that level 24/7. On top of that was the abrupt stress from being a junior. I had to look at colleges, take AP classes, and keep my social life. Since swimming took up most of my time, this made my life extremely hectic. A full week of intense training, plus school, and somehow finding time for myself, took everything out of me. I was mentally and physically laboring through the year. A bad day at practice or school was usually dragged on through each day into the next. I became more irritable and introverted, which ultimately isolated me from other people, including my family. What happened next was the worst possible outcome for me. In November, I stress fractured my back and couldn’t exercise at all for two months. This led to a downward spiral of negative thoughts and overthinking. I couldn’t train with my best friends or swim to help with the stress going on in my life. Those next couple months were some of the hardest times I’ve ever been through.

One of the things about dealing with depression is you feel hopeless. You feel like the world is out to get you. When I was supposed to go to Canada for a swim meet, I fractured my back. When I finally decided to see a therapist, he had a heart attack and passed after seeing him for a month. When I went back to swimming after my injury, the season was cut short due to COVID-19. After going through all of this, the most important thing I realized is that there will always be someone there for you. Depression will make you feel like the smallest person in the world. It uses your own thoughts to eat away at yourself. I was trapped inside my own head, and I didn’t want to let my guard down and let other people in. Maybe it’s because of the preconceived ideas of “men with depression are soft” or that I just needed to “man up”. But after opening up the people close to me, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone anymore. It made me feel like it was okay not to be okay. Even my favorite swimmers like Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps shared their story about depression, and that inspired me to share mine. It’s a very real problem that needs more attention. People need to be told that it’s normal to feel this way and everything will be okay. This being my senior year, I hope I can shine a light on this issue for the student athletes that will come after me. We should celebrate life and sports and support those who are fighting to do the same.

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