The mental health of Ball State student-athletes has proven to be extremely important, delicate
She sat there and watched.
Senior Regan Lewis, record-setting high jumper and a key member of Ball State’s track and field team, was sidelined for nine weeks after suffering an ankle injury. The injury healed, but the pain of not competing hurt more.
“It was big to go to a track meet to stay a part of the team even though I couldn’t compete,” Lewis said. “[Being injured] was stressful and very boring. I don’t like not competing. Going to practice every single day and watching everyone else compete was different.”
The aspect of sitting out adds to the amount of stress a student-athlete feels. According to a study conducted by Daniel Eisenburg, director of Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health, 33 percent of college students experience significant mental health conditions, and the majority of that percentage reaches out for help. However, only 10 percent of student-athletes who have mental health conditions seek help.
In some cases, athletes will use and abuse drugs and alcohol. In 2017, the NCAA administered a survey to 23,000 student-athletes across the country with 60 percent of all NCAA schools participating.
Through the survey, the organization found 77 percent of student-athletes reported drinking alcohol in the past year. In addition, 36 percent reported drinking alcohol on a weekly basis.
Another area of substance use is tobacco and nicotine. From 2009-17, student-athletes’ use of tobacco and nicotine declined by 4 percent. Additionally, 24 percent of student-athletes have reported inhaling marijuana in the past year.
In order to preserve the mental stress of being a student-athlete, various resources have been put in place to help students thrive in and out of competition.
One resource offered within the Ball State Athletics program is access to mental health consulting. Anna Farello, the mental skills consultant for the track and field team, works with the team to help manage the busy life required of these student-athletes.
“Stress management is really big,” Farello said. “Student-athletes have a lot on their plates, so we suggest relaxation techniques that can help athletes focus on the present moment or bring down stress levels.”
One resource Farello recommends to athletes is the use of a mental tool kit. Examples of these tools could be breathing techniques, meditation and time management. Tapping into these individual resources can help manage the workload between school and sports.
In efforts to not let the stress get to them, some student-athletes channel the high pressure into their performance on their respective stage.
“Everyone has their own way of performing their best,” Farello said. “Some people use that stress from school to actually fuel them in competition.”
While there are many resources available to athletes within the department and outside of it, the rigorous schedule of eat, sleep, practice, play, repeat may be a limiting factor of seeking help.
William Betts, director of counseling and health services at Ball State, said only 2.7 percent of students using the Counseling Center report being involved in varsity athletics. This is compared to the 21 percent of students who report being involved in general athletics like club and intramural sports.
“Finding a time to meet with a counselor is often one of the biggest challenges for athletes,” Betts said. “However, we make every effort to accommodate athletes’ schedules.”
Despite the resources and schedules for student-athletes, in the end, it’s the drive of the athlete to find help and stay focused mentally and physically in order to succeed.
As Lewis continues to break school and conference records, the people around her have noticed her drive and passion to continue to do what she loves: to stay sharp and focused.
"Regan is tougher than what everyone thinks," track and field head coach Brian Etelman said. "She was in a pretty tough situation having not competed for two and a half months. She could have elected not to compete this weekend. We had that conversation and left it entirely up to her."