Nov 21, 2018
Preventing Suicide

Athletes are no different than non-athletes when it comes to struggles with mental health, including thoughts of suicide. Because athletic trainers often develop closer relationships with athletes, they are in a prime position to tackle this issue head on.

“Athletic Trainers (ATs) must be aware when it comes to potential patients suffering from mental illness,” Katie Ostrovecky, MS, ATC, an athletic trainer for works with the youth population in Southern California, wrote in an article for the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer. “ATs often put injury prevention plans in place for their athletes or patients, and suicide prevention is no different.”

The staggering statistics place even more urgency on this matter. According to Ostrovecky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 123 Americans commit suicide per day, totaling roughly 44,000 suicides annually across the country.

“While ATs are not trained mental health professionals, it is still our responsibility to keep our patients safe to the best of our abilities,” Ostrovecky wrote.

Ostrovecky suggests that athletic trainers begin their suicide prevention plans during the preseason by conducting screenings on student-athletes. She says the CDC identifies four different categories of suicidal risk factors: individual, relationship, community, and societal.

“Screening can allow ATs to identify individuals at risk for suicidal ideations,” Ostrovecky wrote. “Some of these risk factors may be harder than others to identify in a pre-season screening, but an AT may be able to flag certain patients if they see one or more factors.

“One example of a simple change that could aid in pre-season screening would be asking the individual if they have any history of anxiety, depression or other mental health-related illnesses,” she continued. “While they may not always feel comfortable sharing, these questions can open the door for conversation in the future.”

Besides screening for risk factors of suicidal thoughts and behavior, Ostrovecky says athletic trainers should also be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of at-risk student-athletes. She explains that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention identifies “Talk, Behavior, Mood” guidelines for indicating suicidal intentions, which include the following:

  • Overhearing an individual talk about things like “having no reason to live” or “being a burden to others
  • Noticing behavior changes such as “”isolation from family or friends”” and “”increased use of alcohol or drugs”
  • Witnessing a display of mood swings

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