Katie Lou Samuelson shares struggles with mental health in ESPN piece

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Sometimes, the toughest battle an athlete can fight is not against an opponent, or balancing life as a human being and athlete or handling all of the media scrutiny that comes with the glitz and glamour of pro sports.

Sometimes, that toughest battle is with oneself.

WNBA players have been very open over the years about their bouts with mental health, including Chamique Holdsclaw, Liz Cambage, and even Jamierra Faulkner, who announced in a YouTube video that she would be sitting out the 2020 season.

Recently, another noteworthy player opened up as well about how she has dealt with said struggles.

Katie Lou Samuelson was drafted by the Chicago Sky last season before becoming a member of the Dallas Wings. She and her sister, Karlie, are now on the same team after playing on opposite coasts in college. Katie Lou was UConn and Karlie was at Stanford.

When I look back on when I was dealing with depression and anxiety, it feels like I was putting together a puzzle. Slowly at first, because until recently, I didn’t understand exactly what I was working on.

–Katie Lou Samuelson (ESPN)

Samuelson also wrote of how the transition from the west coast to the east coast for her would be a challenge but that she adjusted to New England life well … in part because of the sisterhood she had established in Storrs.

I always used to make excuses about why I felt a certain way. I’m hard on myself and became accustomed to a lot of negative self-talk. I used to tear myself down in ways that I didn’t realize I was doing.

–Katie Lou Samuelson (ESPN)

I had moments after games where I needed to break down and cry; sometimes you need to release energy. I remember being in the locker room after a game, crying and upset. The coaches talked to me, asking me what I needed. I said something along the line of ‘Look, I just want to play the next game and I’ll be fine.’ And I ended up playing one of my best games.

–Katie Lou Samuelson (ESPN)

While eventually becoming a first-round draft pick, making her way into the WNBA and also getting recognition from USA Basketball, she wrote of how her career was filled with its fair share of bumps and bruises. These included not playing in the 2016 NCAA national title game due to injury. UConn claimed its fourth consecutive national title that year after an 82-51 victory over Syracuse with Breanna Stewart being named Most Outstanding (Valuable) Player.

Samuelson wrote of how she always tried to find outlets she could to continuously hide her pain and anguish. She mentioned how basketball was supposed to be an escape, but that she pushed herself so much that she was in search of another outlet.

Looking back now, I wasn’t taking care of myself as well as I should have. I wasn’t eating right. I had times where I was sleeping for 13-15 hours a day. I’d get up to go to practice and class, then come back to my room, and that’s about it.

–Katie Lou Samuelson (ESPN)

Samuelson believed things would be better in the WNBA than in college, but she eventually sought out a mental health professional for more insight.

When I started talking about things that I didn’t think made sense, it made perfect sense to them. And I felt this weight lifted from me.

–Katie Lou Samuelson (ESPN)

She acknowledges that mental health is an important topic for many people nowadays with people dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Samuelson now says she is finding outlets such as photography and reading and not putting so much pressure on herself to have everything “figured out.”

Samuelson announced she is now working with The Trevor Project and wear a new Puma shoe in its support. The Trevor Project is an LGBTQ youth organization that specializes in preventing suicide and handling crises that occur in its community.

One of the biggest things is you finally understand that it’s OK to not be OK, to have sad days, to feel down on yourself. What you choose to do with that is the most important part.

–Katie Lou Samuelson (ESPN)

Players come into the league and feel empowered to talk about who they are and what they believe in because we’ve seen players before us do it. So many of our women, particularly women of color, are leaders and activists and we all take a lot of pride in that leadership.

–Katie Lou Samuelson (ESPN)

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