A task force led by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, in conjunction with the NCAA, says colleges and universities need to develop more resources to recognize and address the mental health concerns of student-athletes.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college athletes, and sports medicine and mental health professionals say student-athletes have unique stressers that leave them at risk for mental health issues. Yet seeking help for those concerns still carries a powerful stigma in the athletic community.
Will Heininger, a former University of Michigan football player who suffered from depression, says young athletes need to know that the problems they are struggling with are not something to be ashamed of.
“And my advice would be, open up; talk about it,” he says. “Act like it’s a broken wrist or something else that’s a physical ailment that you would go get help for.”
Guidelines developed by a task force led by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, outline ways athletic trainers, team physicians, coaches and teammates can recognize the signs of psychological concerns and refer those dealing with mental health issues to the right resources.
Syracuse University Assistant Director for Sports Medicine Tim Neal, who chairs the task force, says schools and their athletic programs need to act with urgency on the issue.
“I’m of the opinion at times that our understanding and management of psychological concerns with student-athletes is where we were with concussions ten or 15 years ago,” he says. “Ten years from now, I don’t want to be sitting in the same spot; we want to move it ahead and help these student-athletes.”
Neal says the task force also wants to spread the guidelines to the high school level, where many mental health issues can initially develop.