MENTAL HEALTH IN ATHLETES

sports brain

“The athlete has unique stressors and triggers that are not found in the regular student. They’re away from home, they miss holidays, they miss family events, a lot of them miss their summers. And they’re in the spotlight for the most part, not only in the community or nationally but especially on campus.” ~ Timothy Neal

Often left behind closed doors or not discussed at all, is the critical topic of mental health for athletes. Most sports organizations do not have well-developed systems in place for mental health considerations. As Dr. John Sullivan shared at the recent PAADS Summit, where I was presenting on the concept of an Ombuds model for sports organizations, our country’s motto is that “we suffer in silence.”

My wife lost her brother to suicide. My family has an unfortunate tree with lots of mental illness on its leaves that carries it’s own silent history of lives lost or diminished. There is a tremendous stigma against discussing such issues openly and yet the costs are real whether we wish to acknowledge the issue or not.

If you are an administrator, coach, athlete, or supporter, it is imperative that you begin to immerse yourself in a deeper understanding of mental health and psychological concerns because it is far too prevalent and important to ignore. I watched in awe at the bravery of four-time Academic All-Big 10 honoree and defensive tackle Will Heininger sharing his story openly and exposing himself and the pain he has struggled with. Similarly, Keyon Dooling passionately shared his history of abuse as a child and the impact it had in derailing his NBA career. This type of guts goes far beyond any we expect in our usual sports ethic and sheds light where too often darkness prevails.

The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) has developed Inter-Association Recommendations for Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student-Athletes With Psychological Concerns at the Collegiate Level that should be a mandatory read for anyone in sports.

A survey on college students stated that 86.8% felt overwhelmed by all they had to do and 81.9% felt exhausted (not from physical activity). Let’s work together to de-stigmatize these issues. If you care about winning and athlete performance than this must be part of your toolset.

SCI has gathered a few resources that help in this space but we’d love to hear about more. Please share resources that you’d like us to include in our Knowledge Center on this topic. We’d also be happy to host athletes and coaches willing to share their stories on SCI TV.

Contact us or comment with suggestions.