Female swimmer says social media impacted her mental health

In the past year, several college athletes have died by suicide, many of them women.

Now a local competitive swimmer who also struggles with her mental health explains how difficult it was to deal with social media and her body image, especially in her teens.

18-year-old Lutnya Bogdanova started swimming competitively when she was just three years old and has been successful year after year, but she’s had to overcome a few obstacles along the way.

“At one point I felt like I was in a closet and couldn’t talk to anyone. It felt like I wasn’t good enough no matter what I did,” Bogdanova said.

Bogdanova’s mental health began to suffer at the age of 13 with depression and anxiety.

“Everyone wants to do their best,” she said. “Everyone wants to make the team proud, make their coaches proud.

She said being a swimmer and a woman comes with its own struggles when it comes to body image issues.

“With women, they see themselves comparing themselves to other athletes,” Bogdanova said. “I want to have that perfect image that doesn’t even seem realistic and they add that with academic and sporting pressure and then they just fall apart.”

Bogdanova admitted that the time she spent on social media hurt her self-esteem.

“I just think social media is just not very healthy at this young age,” she said. “Now that I look back all these years later, a 13-year-old looking at a 27-year-old model and just thinking, ‘I want to be like that,’ I don’t think it’s very healthy.”

Now Bogdanova thanks her two coaches who helped her develop both physically and mentally into the competitor she is today.

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“She comes every day with the mentality: ‘I want to get as much as possible out of this training’, whether it’s technique, speed or endurance,” said coach Jared Pike, who coached Bogdanova for over four years.

Pike said she’s extremely talented, but like so many teenage athletes, he worries about how social media affects their self-esteem given the constant comparison of themselves to other athletes online.

“I speak to a lot of kids on our team. You don’t have to be 100% perfect every time,” he said. “If you’re swimming a little badly or having a bad day or even if you’re having a bad week, it’s a learning point to grow and get better later on. And not everyone develops at the same rate.”

He was particularly concerned about Bogdanova’s mental health issues.

“We had a very difficult situation two years ago, I think two or three years ago, and it was during the butterfly swim,” Pike said. “She just stopped halfway through the race. And she had a panic attack because she was worried that if she didn’t run a certain time or didn’t do a certain thing in the race, everyone would judge her.”

Bogdanova recalled that swim meet as one of the most challenging of her career.

“In the middle I just felt like I couldn’t get air into my lungs. I gasped,” she said.

But she drove through and eventually finished the race.

“She’s just evolved and grown in such a way, it’s just amazing,” said coach Lee Sauffner, who owns Riptide Aquatics in Lakeland, a year-round competitive swim team that Bogdanova has been a part of for many years.

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Sauffner has been training Bogdanova since she was eight years old.

“I really hate losing her. But I know that wherever she goes, she will be better off. She’s not going to do anything but make progress and get better,” said Sauffner.

Those advances now lead her on a full ride to the University of West Florida swim team.

Along with her coaches, Bogdanova said her parents, first-generation immigrants from Russia, have also helped her mental health as they know what it’s like to compete on the world stage.

“My mom was a world-class gymnast, and my dad was a world-class deadlift and weightlifter,” she said. “You both know the difficulty of putting yourself under pressure through sport. I told them how upset I was that I wasn’t getting the results and they both shared their stories of how they felt the same way. “

Pike would like to remind all athletes to lean on others when they are struggling and to remember that they are never alone.

“There is support and they have to be open about how they feel. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength to come forward and talk about it,” he said.

Pike said many colleges like to use athletes’ Instagram and Facebook profiles to understand what type of athletes they are recruiting.

But he warned that this puts added pressure on most young athletes because they will try to portray who they think a college wants to recruit rather than who they really are.

If you or a friend needs psychiatric help, the Tampa Bay Crisis Center is always available.

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They can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week by simply calling 211 in Hillsborough County.

You can also go to their website to check out the many programs on offer.