By: Kelsey Olsen
The negative stigma that surrounds the words “Mental Health” is something that hits a little too close to home for me. I grew up a multiple sport athlete and eventually got a scholarship to go Division One at the University of Vermont, one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving.
I ended up having to hang up my swim cap and goggles after my freshman year due to a pretty bad spell with PTSD from the Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooting.
This is the part that no one talks about. As respected student athletes, we’re almost expected to make everything look easy. According to the NCAA, 70% of student athletes are battling depression, anxiety, or both. Tyler Hilinski was part of the 70%, no one expected it until it was too late. I don’t think the world really opened their eyes to just how demanding being in this role is until Tyler took his life in January of 2018.
Two years have passed since the death of their son, Mark and his wife Kym Hilinski have gone and spoken at enough college athletic departments to notice the same things at every school: the large players’ lounges and locker rooms, the ginormous weight rooms, the beautifully renovated facilities, and so many more shiny perks. But what has failed to come every single time is the funding for a staff devoted to the mental health of these athletes.
Mark and Kym have spent the last two years giving the same speech, calling them “Tyler Talks” and spreading awareness that it’s okay to not be okay.
In January of 2019, the college athletics conference made up of the Power Five, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC actually ended up passing a legislation that mandates that their schools provide “mental health services and resources” to athletes.
Although the Hilinski’s have made so much progress in changing the negative stigma that surrounds the mental health aspect of athletes, there is so much more that needs to be done to protect these lives.
America East is a lesser known conference, but arguably one of the only conferences making moves towards regulating the practice of mental health and making sure the student-athletes know they are taken care of and actually cared about.
The University of Vermont had two athletes during 2016 create a movement called Rally For Mental Health, together Kelly Lennon and Trae Bell launched Catamount Sport Psychology and Counseling helped to join the forces of UVM’s Center for Health and the Athletic Department to help the athletes get access to sports psychologists, nutritionists, dietitians, and CAPS- a counseling service available at almost all public universities.
America East then picked it up as a whole conference and now each school under the AE umbrella has a game dedicated to one game for each sport during their season, to raise awareness for the mental health.
Although it took Tyler Hilinski taking his own life to give everyone the wake up call they needed, steps are being made in the right direction. I hope within the next decade that all universities are able to supply the right amount of mental health resources so we don’t lose another life.