The Awareness Podcast: How Sports Can Negatively Impact A Student-Athlete’s Mental Health

By Jarrod Castillo
Michigan forward Isaiah Livers (2) is comforted on the bench by teammate guard David DeJulius (0) after a hard foul during the second half Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 at the Crisler Center. Sad Michigan basketball

Hello, my name is Jarrod Castillo and I graduated from USC. I decided to do my Master’s Thesis on how sports can negatively impact a student-athlete’s mental health.

My thesis takes the form of an audio podcast series to explore the issues of mental health among student-athletes and athletes as a whole. The primary goal of my thesis was to showcase how balancing sports, personal and academic lives can negatively affect a student-athlete’s mental health.

It’s intended to educate the general public on the struggles and issues that affect student-athletes, what they go through on a daily basis and the sacrifices they make for a good game on the field, on the court or wherever they may play.

Why Did I Pursue this Topic?

The main reason I wanted to explore how sports can negatively impact a student-athlete’s – and athletes as a whole – mental health came after seeing numerous elite athletes such as Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan and the most decorated Olympian of all time, swimmer Michael Phelps, talk about their issues with mental health and their struggles with it, specifically with Love’s account of having a panic attack during a basketball game and Phelps’ battle with depression.

The trio is part of the 35% of athletes that suffer from a mental health crisis, according to data compiled by Athletes for Hope, a nonprofit founded in 2007 that educates, encourages and assists athletes in their efforts to contribute to their community and other causes.

Also, reading various journalistic and scholarly articles helped me realize that although athletes are always exercising, it’s those moments of trying to be perfect that might prove to be harmful to their mental health. Exercise has generally been accepted as one of the more effective ways of dealing with mental health issues.

Hearing that elite athletes have mental health issues surprised me. If over-exercising to attain perfection can add stress and anxiety to a professional, I wondered how that – along with dealing with school and a personal life – can affect a student-athlete over time.

What Was My Rationale?

During my exploration of how sports can negatively impact an athlete’s mental health, I focused more on student-athletes because they are one of the more underrepresented groups when it comes to having conversations around mental health and addressing mental health concerns.

For example, while Episode One mainly centered around a mental health professional, an extensive amount of work went into Episode Two, making sure the student-athletes I interviewed were able to express their feelings and experiences as an athlete. In Episode Three, I combined the athlete’s voice along with a fan, coach and mental health professionals to paint a more complete picture of the true components of athletics.

In doing so, I was able to better understand that student-athletes live much more complicated lives than most of what the public knows. It’s not just playing sports and getting a free education: there are contracts to be signed, event appearances to attend and an incredible time commitment for their sport. So much so that everything revolves around the sport, and making sure every hour of their day is accounted for.

In Closing

This series aims to give the listener a behind-the-curtain look into what a student-athlete’s life is like away from the public eye. It delves into how balancing their academic, personal and sports lives can ultimately be detrimental to their mental health, and how the general public can better understand and appreciate the complexity and layers of an athlete’s life.

Episode One – What’s Up, Doc?

Episode Two – Athletes: They’re Just Like Us

Episode Three – Let’s Talk About It

Thank you for your time.