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Female student-athletes feel pressure weighing on mental health

'It’s okay to admit you are not okay'
KU Softball Player
Posted at 9:10 AM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 10:10:45-04

LAWRENCE, Kan. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and statistics show student-athletes are less likely to seek mental health treatment than other college students.

Among all students experiencing a mental health condition, around 30% seek help. Of student-athletes, only 10% seek help.

University of Kansas athlete Cheyenne Hornbuckle says her life is framed by softball.

“I think my mom has had a ball or bat in my hands since I could pick one up. It’s kind of who I am," Hornbuckle said.

Being part of the KU softball team comes with the pressure and adjustment of being a college student.

“It’s a lot. I mean, I don’t think there is anything that can prepare you completely at least for the whole workload you will have here, no matter what your major is," Hornbuckle said.

She admits being expected to perform well academically and athletically takes a toll on her mental health.

“It was hard my freshman year — I struggled," Hornbuckle said. "I know I go into a bit of a deep hole just trying to find happiness."

In the past three months, that pressure has taken the lives of four female athletes around the nation: Arlana Miller (Southern University), Sarah Shulze (University of Wisconsin), Lauren Bernett (James Madison University) and Katie Meyer (Standford).

For Hornbuckle, the death of Bernett, a fellow softball player, hit especially hard.

“You never know what someone could be going through," Hornbuckle said. "I mean that catcher that just passed, she had a phenomenal weekend, was almost perfect at the plate. It’s just scary to think you never know what someone could be going through. Just making sure you are checking on them."

The University of Kansas Athletics is making sure to check on athletes by having therapists on staff.

"That's something that is really important to stress that ... we don't just start talking when there is crisis. You can start that process throughout, it can be preventive," said Jason Kraman, student-athlete mental health clinician.

Staff at the department will be trained on signs of suicidal thoughts with a program called QPR.

"It stands for question, persuade and refer," Kraman said. "It's sort of like a gatekeeper training so that other people can be aware of signs and symptoms of suicide and know how to take action if those things are about."

The loss of four talented student-athletes is a wake-up call that universities need to spend time on not only athletes' physical health but their mental health as well.

“We go through so much, so just realizing that it’s okay to admit you are not okay — that was the hardest thing to try to admit. I am exhausted, I am drained but it’s okay. Accept those feelings and know it’s okay to feel that way," Hornbuckle said.

If you or anyone you knows needs help, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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Two Americas is part of a KSHB and Scripps signature issue to help introduce our community to the America you know and the America you might not know. Our role as the media is to share the news of the day, but we also seek to give a voice to people we don't hear from often.

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