“Come on Meredith.  You can do better than that.”  “You’re so weak.” “You need to push harder to win.” “You have to work harder if you want to be the best.”  “Jane is doing it so why can’t you?”

Where have I heard these words?  Was it from a coach in a game?  Perhaps a teacher critiquing my writing?  Maybe my parents telling me I better get my grades up?  No, no, and nope.  None of the above.

Instead, these are part of a loop of self-doubt that has been known to run across my thoughts from time to time – especially in stressful situations. And boy, have we had some stress over the last couple of years.  Not only am I taking on more responsibility with a plate full of the competitive demands of academics, sports, and activities, but add a side of face masks, shutdowns, vaccines, and social distancing, and I can assure you no one wants another helping of the last two years.

Internal pressures can be enormous, especially for those of us with a naturally competitive spirit.  Athletes, in particular, strive to push themselves beyond their imagined physical limits on a regular basis.  But what about their mental health limits?  Do athletes go too far in pushing aside their own mental health and well-being for the sake of “being the best” or for “the win”?

We recently watched as Simone Biles was alternatively praised and ridiculed for pulling out of Olympic competition for what she described as mental health reasons.  As a competitive person myself, I know that wasn’t an easy decision in the short term, but she undoubtedly helped others by standing up and saying she would not sacrifice her well-being for a win.

The suicide this week of Stanford Women’s Soccer Captain, 22-year-old Katie Meyer, should serve as a wakeup call to anyone who thinks student and athlete mental health should not be prioritized over winning.

My heart goes out to Katie’s family and friends.  Katie is described as one of the best and brightest Stanford scholar athletes.  We may never know the reasons she felt so much despair that she would be pushed to take her own life.

What we do know is that suicide rates are up and we need to do something about it.  We can start by making sure student mental health needs are at the top of any educational agenda.  Classmates, faculty, administrators, parents, and society need to be aware of the mental fragility of students given the pandemic and the divisive rhetoric in society as a whole.  If we continue to ignore it for the sake of a sports, academic, political, or social media win, then we will all lose.

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