Addressing Mental Health

May 3, 2018

In response to athletes suffering from sleep disturbance, anxiety, and depression after injury, Syracuse Athletics has hired a full-time therapist to join its sports medicine staff. Previously, the school made two part-time counselors available to athletes.

According to The Daily Orange, a 2016 survey of 21,000 athletes in NCAA Division I, II and III found that 30 percent of respondents felt “intractably overwhelmed," and a study that same year at Drexel University revealed that 24 percent of the 465 athletes suffered “clinically relevant” depressive symptoms. John Wildhack, Director of Athletics at Syracuse, said he realized there was a need for mental health professionals in athletics.

“Our mental health services were a direct result of input that we got from student athletes at ACC meetings and at the NCAA convention in 2017,” Wildhack said. “I came back and said, ‘We’ve got to provide more support services, more help in that area.’”

Robin Scholefield, a psychologist at the University of Southern California and its associate director of clinical and sport psychological services for athletics, said athletes often feel pressure to attend every practice and perform well for their team in an “achievement-based culture.” 

“Because college athletes are expected to play at such a high level of competition, especially in Division I, they have enormous pressure to perform and maintain their place on a team,” Ellen deLara, associate professor emerita in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, said. “This can help to create an atmosphere for them that promotes a lot of stress, which in and of itself can lead to anxiety and depression.”

Cory Wallack, director of Syracuse's Counseling Services, said he believed therapists should be easily accessible.

“Around the country, I think we’re on the front end of what’s about to be an explosion,” Wallack said. “You’re going to see a whole heap of specialists who are working with college student-athletes. The NCAA is treating mental health as a public health crisis at the level it needs to be treated.”

Brad Pike, Assistant Athletics Director for Sports Medicine, strongly encourages student-athletes to see the therapists.

“We’re trying to get to the point that mental health is just as important as physical health,” Pike said. “Or probably more important than physical health.”

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