PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — AJ Guyton is used to be around lots of kids in sports settings.
But gyms and diamonds are empty right now. And summer camps have been cancelled.
So Guyton, the director of athletics for Peoria Public Schools, says this is a critical time to keep those budding athletes encouraged.
“We have to be very diligent in our approach. educating our kids and keeping them busy and continue to have them dream without the action,” Guyton said.
Depression, anxiety, loneliness. Sports psychologists say athletes may be struggling with these emotions as they try and adapt without sports.
Eureka College senior Jordan Dehm can relate.
“People know me around the area, they know me as a happy-go-lucky, friendly kid. And I’ve struggled with mental health,” Dehm said. “This can happen to anyone at anytime.”
In conjunction with NCAA Division III’s social media mental health campaign called #BreakTheStigma, Dehm shared his story.
The former Metamora High School star basketball player talked openly openly about his lifelong struggles with mental health and dealing with stress as an athlete. He says talking about it openly has been therapeutic for him as he has received support from around the nation.
He hopes young athletes who are just now struggling with doubts, will seek help before mental health problems gets bigger.
“The stigma is, when you’re an athlete, you’re supposed to be mentally tough, physically tough,” Dehm said. “Having mental issues gives a perception you are soft. Holding it in, you don’t want to let people know you have this little weakness.”
Dehm suggests athletes who are experiencing deep sadness over the loss of sports talk it over with parents, coaches and close friends. Then seek professional help, if needed.
Guyton, a former NBA player, knows his middle school students can be struggling mentally this summer too.
“We’re frustrated about the pandemic, frustrated about an unknown future. It frustrates me so I know it frustrates our students,” said Guyton. “As adults, he have to become extreme leaders in our community to help them continue to dream. That’s the hard part.”