May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Over the last few months, five college student-athletes have died by suicide. They were: Katie Meyer, a star goalie on Stanford’s soccer team; Sarah Shulze, a top runner for the Wisconsin Badgers; Lauren Bernett, a standout softball player for James Madison; Jayden Hill, a track athlete at Northern Michigan; and Robert Martin, a lacrosse player at Binghamton.
We have a problem. Consider this from the New York Times: In 2019, 13 percent of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode, which is a 60 percent increase from 2007. Emergency room visits by children and adolescents rose sharply for anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm. In ages 10 to 24, suicide rates, which were stable from 2000 to 2007, leaped nearly 60 percent by 2018. There is an entire series on this in the New York Times.
We have seen this in our practice. Athletes are not insulated. I have worked with teams where a young athlete has taken their life. I have had a friend die this way. It’s hard to understand and it’s painful.
There is a myth that if you ask someone if they are suicidal, they will be more likely to attempt or complete it. That’s not true. Let me share something I have learned.
It needs to be talked about — even though it’s uncomfortable. My experience has been that thoughts of suicide often occur when a person feels helpless and can’t see a way out. I often hear things like, ‘I can’t shut off my brain and get out of my head. Not being here feels like the only way to make it go away.’
Sometimes, talking out loud helps us to realize things we have missed.
I usually ask if they are serious about hurting themselves, or if they want to figure out what exactly they’re feeling, and why they’re feeling that way. Many times it’s the latter.
If you are around or connected with someone who is hiring themselves, take them to the emergency room. Or, you can call 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741. Don’t leave them alone, and remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
Help them to find a therapist. Remember that it may take trying a few to find a good fit.
Words matter with this. Don’t shame them for what they are feeling, or tell them they have nothing to be upset about.
Be an empathetic listener, comfort them, and be a partner in finding them help. Let them know how much you value them.
Check out this site that talks about why this is important.
Let’s change the conversation. Talk and learn about mental fitness. Share our messages with others.