March (Mental Health) Madness

March (Mental Health) Madness

Kelly Pease
Editorial Contributor

College athletes are among the student groups most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Being a college athlete is a huge responsibility that takes a lot of mental fortitude, determination, sacrifice, and responsibility during a normal season. The pandemic has made the past year an especially challenging one for college athletes. They have had to deal with COVID protocols, master more complex learning environments, and in many cases forfeit entire seasons of athletic competition. College athletes will be feeling the effects of these challenges for some time after their sports get back to “normal.”

At Christie Campus Health, we are committed to helping college students deal with a mental health crisis that threatens both their well being and their academic success. We are particularly focused on supporting college athlete mental health through our services, and we work with a number of colleges to provide services that focus on their athletes. In keeping with that commitment, we are proud to participate in this year’s NCAA March Madness Fan Cutout program, the proceeds of which will support the "Hilinski Hope Foundation", a nonprofit organization formed to promote awareness and education of mental health and wellness for college athletes.

We have put a cutout of our President, Robert Meenan, in the stands at the Final Four in Indianapolis. He’s wearing a tee shirt that reads “Support Student Athlete Mental Health.” Bob has been a huge March Madness fan for some time, so he jumped at the chance to be the CCH cutout.  Below, Kelly asks Bob a few questions about his experience going to March Madness games, why college athlete mental health is so important, and how Christie Campus Health can help.

Kelly: I’ve heard that you’re quite the March Madness fan. Can you tell me about your experiences going to the games, your favorite memory from one of the games, and what team you’re rooting for to win it all this year? 

Bob: I have been a basketball fan all my life. I first got hooked in 1956 when the Boston Celtics drafted Bill Russell and won 11 of the next 13 NBA championships. I’ve been a Celtics season ticket holder for over 40 years. I played basketball in high school and then for a year in college before a motorcycle accident ended my career. Many of my friends in college were also basketball players, and nine of us have stayed in close touch. For the past 30 years we’ve travelled to various cities to attend a weekend of March Madness games. Those trips are a highlight of my year. 

One memorable trip was to Orlando in 2004. We rented a house and brought along five teenage sons.  Another was to DC in 2008 when we had extra tickets and were joined by a daughter and a number of local friends and colleagues. Every year has been a great opportunity to spend time with friends that I’ve now known for over 50 years.

Being from Boston, I usually don’t have a local team in the tournament. This year I picked Illinois to win it all, so my bracket got busted early.  I’ve grown quite used to that over the years.

Kelly: Student athletes have particularly been through a lot in the last few months. In your opinion, why is student athlete mental health so important? 

Bob: College students are facing a mental health crisis that’s been building for years and has become much worse during the COVID-19 as the pandemic has disrupted their lives in so many ways. College athletes have always had to deal with more demands than their classmates, and they are dealing with more disruptions due to COVID-19. The college years are a critical transition to adulthood. Mental health issues during the college years threaten student well-being and academic achievement which in turn threatens adult well-being and achievement. Providing more mental health support for college students, and especially for student athletes, during these challenging times will help them become happier and more successful adults. 

Kelly: Over your course of being a college sports fan, what has it been like to see that shift in the conversation about mental health support for athletes?

Bob: It has been great to see the conversation about mental health in sports shift along with the conversation about mental health in society. It’s become more open and as a result the stigma of dealing with mental health issues has been noticeably reduced. In basketball, NBA players like DeMar DeRozen and Kevin Love have been open about their mental health issues. It’s harder for college basketball players to be as open given their dependence on scholarship funding. Fortunately, colleges are starting to recognize that their athletes are especially stressed and are setting up programs that make it easier for them to get help.  

Kelly: How can Christie Campus Health help schools support their student athlete mental health needs?

Bob: Christie Campus Health focuses on enhancing mental health services for college students by working closely with counseling centers and other campus offices including athletic departments. We work to increase awareness of services and improve access to them.  We offer a range of treatment options that allow students to tailor their care experience to best fit their needs and preferences.  Our services can be especially helpful for college athletes who tend to be more reluctant to seek help and who often prefer to keep their issues private from coaches and other school staff. 

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