COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — At least five NCAA athletes have died by suicide in less than two months, leaving five families grieving and five teams figuring out how to cope.
Sarah Shulze, Katie Meyer, Jayden Hill, Robert Martin and Lauren Bernett all passed away during March and April this year. Athletes who, from the outside looking in, may have seemed like they had everything going for them. But away from the field, could have struggled with mental health issues that no one knew about.
"The game plan now should be check on everyone all the time, even if they aren’t showing symptoms and maybe, especially if they aren’t showing symptoms," Bob Eckhart said.
Eckhart served as a mentor and tutor at The Ohio State University through the school's Student-Athlete Support Services Office (SASSO).
"I think the most complicated part is figuring out what the signs are," Eckhart said. "Don't assume that people who are performing well, getting playing time, and achieving results are doing well off the playing field. Maybe the playing field is the only place where they are doing okay."
Eckhart suggested normalizing and providing mental wellness support for every student-athlete at a college or university.
"In an athletic context, if going to a sports psychologist is optional, it will probably be seen as a weakness to go there," Eckhart said. "Instead, there should be a team of social workers, counselors, and therapists who do intake interviews with every student-athlete who comes into the program."
"The problem is that we have people dying by suicide who may not even have warning signs because there may not even be mental illness prior to the suicide,' said Dr. Megan Schabbing.
Schabbing is the System Medical Director for Psychiatric Emergency Services at OhioHealth. She said a 2018 study by the Center for Disease Control found in the past decade, over 50% of people who die by suicide have no mental health diagnosis.
“If you know someone that is going through a rough time, whether it’s going through a break-up, divorce, failed exam or even not getting into the college they wanted to, pay particular attention. Check-in with that person more frequently. If there are particular difficulties a person is experiencing, you may be able to pick up on that and help them with getting in with a counselor or therapist.”
Schabbing also said working with young children to teach them preventative mental health strategies could be key in preventing severe anxiety and depression as children grow into young adults.
"You can use very basic but still helpful terms that help kids understand what is going on in their brains. Even teaching kids something like: What type of things makes you stressed out? You can do that in grade school. It gets the kids thinking, this might be a trigger for me."
A new organization, Sneaker Ball 614 was created to build awareness for youth mental illnesses.
"I have suffered from anxiety and depression my entire life and I really didn’t get the attention that I needed until I was in my 20s," said Kym Carter.
Carter is Sneaker Ball 614's media coordinator.
"I am very open about my mental health now. People will tell me, "you’re so happy, you’re so chipper." I am, but at the end of the day there is something going on inside that I can’t control. Everyone has things that they go through so be kind to everyone because you never know what they are going through. You never know what your smile can do, you never know what your hello can do. So be kind."
Sneaker Ball 614 hosts community events and facilitates mentorship programs that focus on building self-esteem and improving overall mental health.
The next event, Rip the Runway, is scheduled for July 16.