Student-athlete mental health right now

Student-athlete mental health right now

Rory Kelly
Editorial Contributor

Early morning lifting session, breakfast, class, office hours, discussion, lunch, lab, team practice, physical therapy and prehab exercises, dinner with teammates, study for an exam and work on a paper in the library. A day in the life of a college student is very full, especially so for student-athletes. Efficient routines created by class schedules, set practice times, and sleep and hunger cues are essential for top performance in academics and athletics. Ideally, these very full days include work and play, along with a built-in support network of teammates and coaches with whom one shares goals and the collective journey of growth to achieve them.

The high academic demands all students tackle in addition to student-athletes’ athletic demands can overwhelm during times of mental, emotional, physical stress, or other difficulties. Additionally, the disruption caused by COVID 19 which resulted in loss of routine, social connection, goal-oriented practice, and play can also be unsettling, as noted by many graduating and injured student-athletes. In a time when all student-athletes have faced coronavirus-related campus shutdowns, and resulting season terminations or alterations, many of them are struggling to cope and adapt.

NCAA Research partnered with the NCAA Sports Science Institute and three national Student-Athlete Advisory Committees to conduct a survey on student-athlete wellbeing in April following the coronavirus-related campus shutdowns and cancellation of NCAA sports. The survey sought to assess student-athletes’ mental health, living situations, barriers to training, academics, and social connections through athletics. It is important to note that out of the 37,658 respondents, female student-athletes and white student-athletes were overrepresented compared to the percentage of the student-athlete population they comprise

Student-athletes reported experiencing mental health distress at a level 150-250% higher in the month of April than had been reported by NCAA athletes in past National College Health Assessments. The most common difficulties students noted included feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do, sleep issues, mental exhaustion, loneliness, and sense of loss.

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Figure 1. Mental health concerns student-athletes experienced “constantly” or “most every day.”

Only 60% of men and 55% of women reported knowing where to access services, which aligns with the findings from Active Minds’ April 2020 college mental health survey.

Additionally, the researchers collected data on student-athletes’ desired resources and sources of support. Student-athletes requested updated information from the NCAA regarding fall sports plans, guidance from coaches for training and resources supporting social and mental health, and academic and career support, financial assistance, and health care access from athletics departments.

As student-athletes continue to adapt to policy and campus changes as the virus continues to spread and the wait for a vaccine continues, they are grasping for support and consistency amongst the uncertainty. The CONNECT@College platform offers students a number of options to support their wellbeing. To foster social connection, CCH has implemented COVID-19-related support group sessions via telehealth where students can share experiences and find support in peers while guided by a licensed clinician. Additionally, ICare, CONNECT’s online self-guided cognitive behavioral health training, encourages students to develop skills such as problem-solving, fact-checking, and self-compassion over the course of eight online sessions. And for students seeking greater levels of support, we offer a 24/7 support line, referrals to our private network of clinicians, and community referrals for those seeking high-touch clinical support.

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