Jan 29, 2015
Analyzing Athlete Mental Health

On Sept. 25, leading health care professionals will meet at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to release inter-association task force recommendations on “Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student Athletes with Psychological Concerns at the College Level.” The day’s events will convene with an expert panel discussing the topic.

The new document will be released at the press event and published in the September-October 2013 issue of the NATA’s Journal of Athletic Training.

According to a press release from the NATA:

Approximately one in every four to five youths in America meets the criteria for a mental health disorder and experiences severe impairment across a lifetime. In 2012, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 45.9 million Americans adults aged 18 years or older experienced a mental illness in 2010.

The rate of mental illness was more than twice as high for those in the 18-to-25 year old range than in those aged 50 years and older. Given the NCAA student athlete participation rates of more than 450,000 in 2011-2012, the probability of encountering one or more student athletes with psychological concerns within an athletic department is a certainty.

It is well known that regular physical exercise can have positive benefits on an individual’s mental health and lead to a healthier and happier life overall. The mental health of a college student is challenged by any number of factors of student life, and participation in athletics does not provide the student athlete with immunity from mental health issues. The mental health of college students, including those that are physically active, is of paramount concern to health care professionals, organizations, administrators, coaches, athletes, parents and others.

Mental health issues can develop from stressful life situations and as a result of injury. Psychological concerns may include depression; anxiety; eating disorders; abuse of drugs, alcohol or other substances; hyperactivity; violence or even suicidal thoughts. The new recommendations will be issued to help eliminate social stigmas associated with these conditions and make it easier for the athlete to feel comfortable talking about them and get the appropriate care.

The athletic trainer and team physician are in positions to observe and interact with student athletes to gain their trust and are often the ones the athlete turns to in times of crisis or advice. Speakers will discuss the importance of having a team in place to address the psychological concerns of the student athlete, and should include the athletic trainer and physician referring student athletes to campus counseling service and community based mental health organizations.

Experts will address the importance of pre-participation exams; how to approach the student to discuss these psychological concerns; triggering mechanisms or events that may create or exacerbate an existing mental illness; the referral process for mental health evaluations; and risk management concerns and legal considerations.

In addition to the NATA, task force members include: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Medical Society for Sports Medicine; American Psychological Association; Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors; Association of Applied Sports Psychology; International Critical Incident Stress Foundation; International Society of Sports Psychiatry; National Collegiate Athletic Association and the University Risk Management and Insurance Association.

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