Mental Health and Female Athletes: When is the Discussion Too Much?

Mental Health and Female Athletes: When is the Discussion Too Much?

The death of Katie Meyer, the Stanford women’s soccer goalkeeper and 2019 national champion, was a horrific and devastating event. It jolted millions across the globe, and sparked another wave of mental health discussion in the youth sports community.

The loss of a young woman who seemed totally okay and happy jarred many.

The demands of young athletes, from academic to athletic and personal stressors, have become overwhelming. The reality of an overall decline in mental health is very, very real amongst high school and college athletes. Roughly 30% of teenage girls report some form of anxiety disorder, and more than one-third of college students suffered depression in the year 2020.

While mental health issues have skyrocketed, so has awareness, so this begs the question, with all of the awareness to discuss mental health, why hasn’t it got any better in recent years?

Of course, a multi-variable analysis would need to be done on why this is happening.

Was it the pandemic and lack of socialization?

Was it virtual classes?

Is it girls eating processed foods?

Is it girls not getting enough quality sleep?

Is it girls being over-scheduled?

Is it alcohol consumption?

Is it their gossipy friend group?

Is it a lack of free play and creative expression?

Is it a lack in faith and meaning?

Is it social media?

Mental health, to that end, is more than mental. It’s physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. The issue is too complex to limit it to one, itty bitty cause.

But here’s another to consider that no one has the courage to discuss: many claim that there needs to be more awareness and more resources on mental health on social media, but I’d argue it’s too much.

Nothing has improved amidst all of these awareness accounts. People talking about their depression. Girls showing videos of themselves cutting themselves on Instagram. Teenagers openly discussing suicidal thoughts on TikTok. Has the awareness gone overboard?

So this begs the question…is it really a lack of resources on mental health?

Or is it too much negativity being blasted into the abyss that preys on the precarious brains of adolescent girls?

You see, when a downright horrific death like Katie Meyer’s makes the news, everyone goes into reactive mode. People start putting the band-aid on and doing damage control, when this issue amounted far before the devastating event. Twitter went ballistic, and many blamed it on a lack of resources.

I totally get the outrage, the hurt, the pain, and the rapid pinpointing of a single cause (because it’s comforting to blame one thing). No one was thinking through this, but again, everyone was acting quick and out of emotion. When people act out of emotion, they are blinded by other life saving and preventative solutions.

Expounding further, why does it take such a devastating event for people to wake up and get amplified? Though there was genuine intention, what needs to be done is consistent, long-term preventative strategy that nourishes the young brain. We need to be focused on this issue year-round, not when just something wild happens.

Alas, this selective outrage is a fascinating phenomenon: people think they’re being helpful and virtuous by posting one upset tweet a year after a catastrophic event, instead of being consistent in the pursuit of helping young girls day in and day out.

This selective outrage is a fascinating phenomenon: people think they're being helpful by posting one angry tweet a year after a catastrophic event, instead of being consistent in the pursuit of helping young girls day in and day… Click To Tweet

It’s too much reactivity, not enough pro-activity.

This means having this difficult discussion: we need to understand the young brain and how it may amount to something this extreme over the years. And take action before it’s too late. 

When girls are teenagers, their prefrontal cortex is not yet developed. In fact, it doesn’t develop until around age 25, and this is when they can make rational decisions. I mean, kind of. Even us adults are susceptible to volatile emotions, so imagine a teenage girl. My. Goodness.

Everything girls see on social media at a young age is processed by the amygdala and decisions are driven by emotion.

Everything girls see on social media at a young age is processed by the amygdala and decisions are driven by emotion. Click To Tweet

This makes it much harder for girls to discern what is “right” and what is “wrong” what is “good” and what is “damaging.” It’s hard for them to have awareness of the information being taken in, and even harder to make good judgement. Long-term consequences aren’t even considered, and girls are allured by acting on their feelings.

And if you can imagine…a 13-year-old girl goes on Tik Tok, sees an influencer openly discussing depression, slitting her wrists, and potentially hanging herself…yeah. YIKES. This talk is far too much for the young brain to be exposed to for many years to come until the brain normalizes this behavior.

Many young girls cannot discern what this means, and may even see it as what “the cool kids are doing.” Remember when our parents said to us at a young age to watch out for the popular kids who drank and did drugs? Yeah. This is the same thing. Girls need to unplug from this poison. Far too many middle school girls know about depression and anxiety. Too many young girls are labeling meager, pregame nerves as “I have crippling anxiety.” Too many girls are attaching to these mental health labels for many years. It’s odd and not ideal for the young brain.

I didn’t know what depression and suicide were until age 18. Thank goodness, as I was much less fragile and susceptible to toxic decisions during this time. I even had the strength to leave an abusive relationship because my mind was resilient and I knew the right path to take.

I implore everyone to consider this, and to understand child development, namely, neuroscience and behavior of adolescents.

It’s not the lack of mental health information, it’s the abundance that is slowly corroding young girls’ minds.

They need to be aware, very aware, and so do parents, on what is accumulating on these platforms. Of course, resources like team psychologists, access to therapy, and hotlines are all needed. I am a HUGE fan of therapy to work through trauma and get an outside perspective in a safe space, and I strongly recommend it. Also, consistent open ears from parents, coaches, and peers, but coaches need to know their scope and refer out when needed. These are non-negotiable.

But more noise on social media? Too much openness surrounding mental health? Something to ponder.

Protect young girls’ brains, even if this means limiting what they consume.





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