Group Effort

October 11, 2018


By Timothy Neal

Mental health disorders in the United States are a major public health concern. One in every four adolescents and young adults in America can meet the criterion of a mental health disorder annually. Student-athletes are not immune from experiencing mental health challenges, and given their unique stressors, may be subject to developing or exacerbating a mental health problem. How can an athletic department or conference office address this growing concern? One avenue to consider is forming a student-athlete mental health work group.

Utilizing best practice recommendations from the NCAA and NATA, an athletic department or conference can form a group of stakeholders to develop education, awareness, and referral practices to assist student-athletes with mental health challenges. This group could include athletic administration, athletic trainers, team physicians, mental health professionals and campus counselors, and coaches. Additionally, an athletic department or conference may want to consider asking an outside expert in mental health, such as a mental health professional or an athletic trainer experienced in mental health, to act as an advisor to the work group participants as they develop their plan.

Suggested steps in the work group process are: 1) select the work group members; 2) review national best practice recommendations and what conference members are presently doing in the area of student-athlete mental health and referral; and 3) ask outside experts to present to the work group and offer their insights on helping complete the goals of education, awareness, recognition, and referral for professional mental health care. Most of the work can be done by e-mail and conference call, but in-person meetings are recommended to solidify the final plan.

The America East Conference established a student-athlete mental health work group in 2017. I was very happy to be asked by Kate Bergstrom, the conference’s Associate Commissioner of Internal Operations, to act as an advisor in their goal of assisting their student-athletes with mental health and wellness. Ms. Bergstrom has done an outstanding job in organizing the work group and assisting in its success to benefit conference student-athletes. Education on mental health, awareness of mental health disorders, behaviors to monitor, and avenues for help were provided to conference members.

Developing a student-athlete mental health work group will assist those who are suffering from a mental health disorder, help student-athletes identify a teammate in need, and provide guidance in navigating this growing concern in our society. To read more about the America East Conference’s Mental Health Work Group, click here.

Timothy Neal, MS, AT, ATC, CCISM, is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Athletic Training Education at Concordia University Ann Arbor. Previously, he spent more than 30 years at Syracuse University, serving in a variety of sports medicine roles. Neal is also a member of the Ohio University Alumni Association Board of Directors. He can be reached at:

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