You Are Not Alone

An open letter to student athletes on mental health

Dear Student Athlete,

I see you walking down the street. Headphones in, head down, distracted from the world around you as if you were subconsciously solving an equation in your head. It’s your second practice of the day and you still haven’t finished that essay that’s due at midnight, which you haven’t been able to finish because you were gone all weekend competing.

I know you are conflicted as you stay up until 1:00 a.m. working on your homework, knowing you have to be up in five hours for morning practice. I know it makes you anxious as you lay your head down to catch some rest. I see you in your bed as your alarm goes off, staring at the ceiling wondering if it’s worth it, knowing you can’t be late because there’s no such thing as a day off.

I see you struggle to finish your workout as complete exhaustion sets in. I see you walking back to the locker room with tears in your eyes, disappointed in yourself for not performing the way you know you can. I know that this is dwelling on your mind as you go to class and even as you go to practice the next day.

I know you feel lonely. Having the same routine of: get up, practice, eat, class, eat, class, practice, sleep is growing over bearing. I know that your time in practice accumulates to about 32 hours a week.

I know you haven’t visited home in months because coach wants you to focus on your season. I know you missed Easter, Thanksgiving, and part of Christmas because of games, meets, and matches.

I see you rehabbing your injury that has prevented you from practicing. I know you’re frustrated as you feel like you’re losing precious time. I know you feel like a chunk of you is missing as you sit on the sideline hoping you heal overnight.

I see you talking with coach, telling them everything is fine. But we both know it’s not.

Athlete. I’m here to tell you that it’s ok. That 30 percent of student athletes are going through a similar battle just like you. You are not alone.

No one says you have to be perfect every time you hit the field, course, track, or court. It’s impossible to be perfect.

There is no shame in your struggles. It’s ok to not be ok. Your struggles are not lessened because they are not physical.

The mind is what powers the body to get through practices and competitions. It’s ok to take care of the mental like you would the physical.

There is power in taking your mental health into your own hands. Often, it’s hard to admit to yourself that you are fighting a silent battle. But the start of a new beginning lies with the confidence to address those conflicting emotions.

I urge you to reach out to your school’s counseling services and set up an appointment. It could only takes one conversation to realize that you were worth it this whole time.

How do I know? Because I was you once. It really does get better.

If you know you or anyone who is experiencing mental health needs to talk, you can call

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you know you or anyone who is experiencing mental health needs at DePaul and needs to talk, you can set up an appointment with counseling services in our Lincoln Park office (773 325 7779) or Loop Campus office (312 362 6923).

Graphic by Natalie Wade, 14 East.

Illustration by Jenni Holtz, 14 East.