Social Media and the Secret Struggles of Athletes

Mental health is a growing conversation all around the world. We connect with many people in similar situations as us through social media. While researching mental health and the stigma around it, I had found the topic of athletes. Professional, collegiate, or even high school athletes are under immense pressure to perform to the peak of their ability, along with the many other stressors life brings.

In my research, I found that 34% of professional athletes suffer from anxiety and depression, while 17% of collegiate athletes have a mental illness. Also, 26% of former athletes have a mental illness caused by the aftermath of their sport. As a college athlete myself, who struggles with mental illness, it was very insightful reading about athletes and everyday people who have overcome their biggest struggles. Having access to social media is a pivotal opportunity to have a wide-reaching conversation. Social media opens a vast world for connecting and helping. Many professional athletes post and express how their lives have been flipped due to mental health, making the conversation grow. Along with social media, there are many other ways in which you can seek help. At Sacred Heart University, the athletic department has given the athletes access to therapists and an app that can provide all the amenities to help.

Social media plays a huge role in mental health. As I mentioned previously, some positive impacts primarily focus on the negative side of social media. These platforms were made to connect with friends, family, and fans but, has the connection been lost through time? Now more than ever, connecting with audiences is at the touch of a fingertip.

Athletes are expected to work through their hardships while feeling the weight of the world on them.

Simon Biles leaps in the air
Renowned American gymnast Simon Biles

When they do not perform to a tee, they are flushed with negative backlash from fans and the internet. For example, Simone Biles had withdrawn from the 2021 summer Olympics due to mental health-related issues. Immediately, people took to the internet to bash and spread false accusations as to why she had done such a thing. The internet did not care if she was hurting; they only cared if the United States would win gold. Many young athletes feel the pressures of competing at such a high level which makes them susceptible to mental health issues. Athletes are held to a high and unrealistic standard, and at times it is hard to choose whether to do what is best for oneself or walk away from the sport you love. Being an athlete that is high profile is hard to deal with life issues behind closed doors. That is why having the media involved in your everyday life is a big concern. Athletes have had to go to immense lengths to do what is best for themselves. In June 2021, tennis player Naomi Osaka had released a statement that she would not participate in any press conferences in the French Open to protect herself from the negativities brought. Osaka’s consequences for not participating were a $15,000 fine and not being invited back.

Naomi Osaka competing at the Australian Open
Naomi Osaka competing at the Australian Open

Today, there is no escaping social media, especially for the high profile. People in any circumstance are affected by mental health and it becomes a more pressing issue through social media. Through research it has become apparent that athletes at any level are affected by social media as people follow their every move, and hide behind a screen believing they can give inputs into their lives. People may look away from the mental health issues that athletes face because they are perceived as being strong and tough, but there should be no excuse to downplay anyone’s mental health. People work to use social media for the good and to spread awareness but it still continues to be outweighed by the negativity circulating online.

"Let's talk about mental health among professional athletes." Vivera Pharmaceuticals Inc. (2021, October 15).

"Mental health of elite athletes." Physiopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2021.


Maddie Rinklin. is majoring in strategic communication, PR and advertising with a minor in fashion at Sacred Heart University. She also plays on the Women’s ice hockey team. The topic of athletes, mental health, and social media has been a topic of interest for some time. Surrounded by athletes day-to-day, she has seen her teammates and other athletes in the community suffer from mental health and wanted to dive deeper into this topic.

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