All Sports Tucson Talk

PODCAST: Nogales basketball player Alma Suarez discusses battling mental health struggles

Nogales sophomore basketball player Alma Suarez said she reached one of her lowest moments in her young life at the beginning of this school year, feeling as if she was “drowning in my pressure and stress.”

“It’s a pretty miserable life to live in like that,” she said. “You don’t want to live in a life of you’re worried about everything and everyone and what they’re going to say if you’re not working hard enough.”

Suarez, interviewed in an All Sports Tucson Talk podcast, came forward about her mental health challenges with her mother and also with Nogales coach Yahaira Sanchez after the basketball season started.

“I kind of opened up to my mom about my struggles and everything and how much pressure I had on myself,” she said. “Eventually, I got put into therapy, which kind of caused me to miss a couple of practices. I wasn’t there 24/7.”

That’s when Sanchez handled the situation like all coaches should — with understanding and grace.

Arizona softball coach Caitlin Lowe exhibited the same characteristic when senior captain Izzy Pacho requested a mental-health break in the middle of this season.

“I reached a point in my career where I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and just completely burnt out,” Pacho wrote in her weekly column for “After having a session with my psychologist, she decided that I needed a break. This was the first time in my life where I decided to take care of myself.”

Alma Suarez (right) with Nogales coach Yahaira Sanchez, who has inspired Alma through her mental-health struggles (Suarez photo)

Some coaches might take a different stance and set ultimatums or force their players off the team because the student-athletes are not practicing and engaging in team activities.

Thank goodness for coaches like Sanchez and Lowe in this regard, especially with mental health a concern.

“When the season started, I wanted to quit and I probably was gonna quit if it wasn’t for the support of coach Sanchez,” Suarez said. “She’s a fighter herself. She inspired me to keep on going. If it wasn’t for her, I definitely would have quit and just probably stopped playing basketball.

“I felt so miserable playing but I think her drive and her inspiration really brought out something in me and I continued to play.”

Suarez also discusses in the podcast her teammates being supportive when she had to miss practices because of her sessions with her therapist.

She admitted “it was a bit rough at the start” with her teammates knowing she had to miss practices, but they rallied around her in the end.

“I won’t lie. Of course, there was some people that found it odd and found it unfair that I got to take a break,” Suarez said. “But at the end of the day, the ones who support you are the ones that should matter the most to you. I refer to them as my sisters. I really appreciate them in supporting me and everything.

“They were just like Coach Sanchez was waiting for me. They were also waiting for me and I love them so much for it.”

According to the Pima County Health Department, 45 percent of youths struggle because of physical, mental or emotional distress.

The podcast was set up as part of All Sports Tucson’s partnership with the Pima County Health Department’s “Not Alone” campaign that is targeting youths who struggle with their mental health and letting them know help is available.

If you or someone you know is experiencing:

  • suicidal thoughts, call 9-8-8
  • an overdose or other life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1
  • a mental health crisis, call (520) 622-6000

OR if you would rather text:

  • text TALK to 741741 to text with a counselor 24/7/365

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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