Depression rates soar among Wisconsin student-athletes as classes resume, but not extra-curriculars

MADISON, Wis. — For Tyler Schmitt, a junior at Madison Memorial High School, “free time” is a foreign concept.

“Tyler’s been playing sports since he was 3,” explained Dawn Schmitt, the three-sport athlete’s mom. “They’re a sense of his identity. They’re who he is.”

Whether it’s baseball, basketball, or soccer, Dawn says Tyler’s “never met a sport he didn’t like.” She’s had to say ‘no’ to her son many times, like when he asked if he could also play football, simply because there weren’t enough hours in week.

“I’m used to playing or practicing at some point every day,” said Tyler. “Either before or after school.”

Dawn raised Tyler as part of a self-described “sports family.” Tyler’s dad played baseball into his 40’s, and Tyler is following in his footsteps. He’s hoping to play in college.

“I watch my kids experience some of their highest highs and some of their lowest lows,” said Dawn. “I go through their emotions with them.”

For the entire Schmitt family, this year has been especially emotional: Tyler hasn’t been able to practice with his teammates, and Dawn hasn’t been able to sit in the stands, support her son, and watch him grow.

“It’s not just the sport itself,” said Dawn. “It’s everything that it brings: the perseverance, the dedication, the hard work.”

Without those things, which aren’t easy to replicate virtually, many student-athletes are feeling lost.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison surveyed 3,000 high school athletes and found that 62-percent experienced symptoms of mild or moderate-to-severe depression over the past six months. Depression rates are twice as prevalent as they were pre-pandemic: three times more severe for girls and four times greater for boys.

Luckily, Tyler’s mental health has been okay. He’s staying hopeful, practicing how and when he can, which nowadays is in his garage.

“We’re going to start doing baseball stuff at home,” said Tyler. “Virtual workouts with the guys. I guess it’s the best thing we can do right now.”

The Madison Metropolitan School District has made the decision to suspend all sport competitions while classes remain virtual.