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NASWIS National Conference

Warde Manuel, Michigan Athletic Director and Keynote speaker made it clear there IS an intersection of student athletes (SA) and mental wellness. He shared his own story of a career ending injury and his journey into his Masters in Social Work. Although his path led him into the world of athletics he was clear on the importance of keeping our college athletes mentally well.
The symposium presented several research projects highlighting various struggles for collegiate student athletes. One important area of research was presented by Lindsey Sanders, MSW, UNC- Greensboro, Creating a Culture of Care-Seeking: Strategies for Encouraging and Supporting Student-Athlete Well-being. In Lindsey’s presentation she showed pictures of athletes on the trainer’s table, wrapped up limbs; athletic departments can easily respond to physical injuries and do so without a second thought. She then showed a slide of an athlete isolated, in their dorm room, what she termed a “mental injury.” Where are the trainers then, when the student athlete is alone and doesn’t feel they have anywhere safe to turn? Her study continues to show that we have a lot of work to do, we need to educate our athletic departments to first be aware of athlete’s mental status and then to take it one step further by getting them the help they need. She is advocating for athletic departments to create a “Culture of Care-Seeking.” Athletes respond to coaches, staff and counselors when the athletic departments make them feel they are more than an athlete, and their well-being, holistically, is important to the college.
Ball State presented a study (The Sport Social Work Model: Using Social Work Values and Ethics to Improve the Health and Functioning of College Athletes. Ballesteros, J., Hansen, C., & Moore, M. Ph.D., not yet published) that determined 54% of SA’s felt the needed to seek mental health services. The study also showed 60% of athletes believe there is a stigma associated with an athlete seeking mental health. There were several other studies which showed the same issues and perceptions about athlete’s and their mental health. Their study also found that 25% of SA’s didn’t know where to access mental health services.
Two open panels were part of the symposium; where the research discussion and the panelist’s question and answer time clearly brought several themes into focus. Athletes are not going to go to University Counseling departments for 2 reasons: proximity to the athletic venues and fear of the stigma of seeking treatment. Athletes need to feel that the University Athletic Departments genuinely care for the entire well-being of their athletes, and athletes can seek help without fear of repercussions by the coaching staff. Student Athletes lack the knowledge of where to go to seek mental health services. The panelist’s clearly stated there needs to be buy in from coaching staff. We need to clearly state that Mentally Healthy SA’s perform better as athletes and students!
The themes in this symposium further support my concept that ALL Collegiate Athletic stakeholders need a program to address student athlete mental wellness across the continuum of care; from Prevention and Intervention to Referral & Liaison management.