NCAA & Task Force Tackle Student Athlete Mental Health

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September 25, 2013 — A task force of athletic trainers, team physicians and sport psychologists, in conjunction with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, is urging colleges and universities to adopt new guidelines to recognize and help student-athletes with mental health concerns, considering suicide is the third leading cause of death among college athletes.

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 is a former University of Michigan football player who suffered from depression.  He says young athletes need to know that the problems they’re struggling with aren’t something to be ashamed of, “And my advice would be, open up; talk about it.  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.  And 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.



By Brandon Smith, Indiana Public Broadcasting


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