Jun 6, 2017
Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

The University of Maine is working to implement a mental health program for student-athletes. It will be funded by a one-time $640,000 disbursement from the NCAA.

“It will allow us to make some improvements we otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” Karlton Creech, Athletic Director at the University of Maine, told the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. “Like a lot of schools at our level, there are plenty of opportunities where we can get better.”

The disbursement is going to active members of Division I in the 2015-16 school year and is intended for developing new programs or improving those that currently exist to support athletes. The athletic department at UMaine decided to address mental health to help promote whole-body wellness among the Black Bears.

“It’s not really performance-based, as sports go, but as people,” said Lynn Coutts, a Senior Associate Athletic Director who is overseeing the program’s implementation. “How do we deal with anxiety? What’s going on in your life? There has to be a trust built. I think we have to become more cognizant of what’s going on in [athletes’] lives. We talk about how much time we spend training and practicing and in study hall. Unless you live it, it’s hard to describe that to people. We’re going to do what we can to try to build people from the inside. Our coaches really know X’s and O’s, and I think we’re going to try to focus on how can we help you as people? That’s what [the] distribution is more for.”

Input from student-athletes was one of the driving factors for choosing mental health as a focus. University officials met with the Elite 13, a group of athletes that represent the Black Bears’ athletic programs.

“Mental health often goes unnoticed,” said Cailey Hutchinson, a member of the Elite 13 and player on the women’s ice hockey team. “We have our coaches (to talk to), but a lot of times athletes don’t want to talk with coaches because then they seem vulnerable. (The coach’s) decisions make us happy or upset, if we play or not. So we want to get a sports psychologist on campus, maybe [one] for each sports team or a few for the entire department. It would be beneficial. It’s just an extra outlet for the athletes to have if they need someone to talk to.”

This sentiment was echoed by Jeffrey DeVaugh, a junior defensive back on the football team and member of the Elite 13, who said it can be difficult for athletes to talk to coaches or teammates about their personal lives.

“It would be a great thing to be able to get things off your mind,” said DeVaugh. “School work, personal things, a lot can happen to affect you on the field. If a counselor is there, he can catch it early before it becomes bigger. It doesn’t have to be sports-related. A lot of things we go through aren’t sports-related.”

Along with bringing in a sports psychologist, the program is intended to educate coaches and staff members.

“We all need to know what to look for, how to direct people,” said Coutts. “We’re going to try to take a holistic look at the whole department. There’ll be some training, some chalk talk. It’s not just counseling kids who need it right now, but (learning) things you can do to try to prevent things from coming up.”

With the goal of having everything set up by fall 2017, Coutts is working with the university’s Head Athletic Trainer, Ryan Taylor, MEd, ATC, as well as the director of the UMaine Counseling Center. Altogether, the program will have psychologists and psychiatrists collaborating.

“We ask these student-athletes to put a lot of time and effort into academics, sports performance, the physical part,” said Coutts. “It’s time we put a priority on the mental part of it. It’s the healthy body, healthy mind approach.”

Image by Sarah Connors

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