A Lovett junior combined his passion for sports, friends and mental health by launching a website dedicated to student athletes struggling with their mental health.
Landon Denker, 16, has started FiveStar Comeback, a website designed to provide high school athletes with mental health resources and inspiration stories. Denker has played football for seven years and lacrosse for 10 years and has seen his teammates struggle with their mental health.
“As an athlete myself, I’ve seen teammates and friends struggle mentally when they missed practices and games while rehabilitating from their injuries,” Denker said. “I wanted to do something to help high school athletes everywhere that may be dealing with anxiety and depression brought on by an injury.”
Launched in early September, the website contains direct links to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, tools for finding local therapists and resources for pain medication and opioid abuse. Denker said he wants to help athletes fully recover from potentially devastating injuries — both physically and mentally.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, around 31.9% of today’s youth experience some form of anxiety disorder.
“Athletes are often faced with tremendous pressure to perform at a high level for their school,” Denker said. “Some are also looking to play at the next level in college. Many high school athletes today are playing and practicing their sport year-round with the hopes of a scholarship. When faced with an injury it can be devasting to their identity.”
For many high school athletes, their self-worth and identity are directly linked to their sport. According to a 2017 study by the Department of Psychology at Springfield College, this is most commonly found in late adolescence and is linked to substance use, career, burnout and transition issues.
“One of my closest friends and teammates broke his leg in a football game last year, and had to miss the rest of the season,” Denker said. “I could tell that he was starting to become depressed as football was a huge part of his life. I’m sure he had a lot of self-doubt about if he would ever come back and be as good as he was. Myself and other teammates were there for him throughout his rehab, and now he’s back and better than ever.”
At the time of publishing, FiveStar Comeback has been viewed by more than 2,000 people and Denker said his classmates have already found it helpful. New comeback stories are posted every week to help students athletes. While athletes may be more susceptible to depression and anxiety, Denker believes sports remain important to students.
“Sports are so important to students because they teach them individual responsibility and being part of a team,” Denker said. “High school sports can create friendships that last a lifetime. I also believe high school sports build leadership and character.”
For more information, visit www.fivestarcomeback.com. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available toll free, 24/7 at 9-8-8 for anyone or their loved ones experiencing distress.