Teens who are athletes have demands placed on them that perhaps other teens don’t experience. Not only are they faced with academic stress but they also feel the pressure to perform, to keep their bodies in shape, and to succeed in their chosen sport.
To help teens with these demands, many universities, high schools, and community organizations provide academic and athletic support programs. For the most part, these programs are aimed at meeting the academic, personal and professional development needs of student athletes.
The academic and athletic support program at North Carolina State University (NCSU) is a diverse program with a wide variety of objectives. However, it’s clear that they are focused on easing the stress of an athlete that has both professional and academic goals. They recognize and celebrate student athletic successes. They provide opportunities for the development of leadership and mastery. They strive to create and support an environment that harnesses intellectual discipline, creativity, problem solving, independence, and responsibility.
Certainly, any academic and athletic support program is also preventative in nature. With so much demand and pressure to perform both physically and academically, a psychological illness can develop. Symptoms of anxiety, addiction, and depression can manifest.
In fact, in 2007, a comparative study was done to assess the risk factors associated with depression for female athletes. Although sports and exercise can often help to mitigate mental illness, such as depression, there are many teens that are passionate about the sports they play and who simultaneously experience either a psychological disorder or an addiction.
The comparative study included surveying 257 college athletes, of which 167 were males and 90 were females. Various symptoms of mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety were measured by having the competitive athletes complete three different psychological assessments. The results of the study indicated that 21% of participants reported that they experienced symptoms of depression. Those athletes who were female, those who were in their freshman class, and those who self-reported pain were associated with having increased odds of experiencing symptoms of depression. Female athletes had 1.32 greater odds of experiencing symptoms of depression than their male counterparts. Also, those students who reported symptoms of depression also had higher scores of related to anxiety.
Furthermore, depression is not the only illness that might develop. It’s easy to develop an addiction. One mental health concern, among many concerning high school and college athletes is the use of steroids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, five to twelve percent of male high school students and one percent of female high school students have used the drug before their senior year.
At times, steroids are legally prescribed in order to treat conditions such as delayed puberty or when certain diseases lead to lean muscle mass, such as cancer or AIDS. However, athletes, bodybuilders, and others who want to develop their physical appearance can easily abuse the drug.
Although there are fewer female athletes to develop an addiction to steroids, in addition to depression, female athletes are at risk for developing the Female Teen Athlete Syndrome. This is a disorder that includes an eating disorder, amenorrhea (the absence of a menstrual period), and decreased bone mineral density (fragile bones that are more likely to fracture). The psycho-physiological disorder is known as a triad because if a female experiences one of these challenges, she is likely to experience the other two.
To be clear, academic and athletic support programs won’t be able to provide mental health treatment. However, they can provide the support that a teen or young adult needs to succeed. For instance, the academic and athletic support program at NSCU uses a Graduation Risk Overview to assess whether a student athlete has barriers to graduation. This tool won’t be able to assess for a mental health diagnosis, but it can detect a possible barrier to academic success. Often, failing grades are often a symptom of mental illness.
Furthermore, the program evaluates a student’s academic risk when they enter the university as well as at the end of each term. The program at NSCU prepares an individualized academic plan in order to provide the support an athlete needs to succeed academically as well as professionally.