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How to Gauge a School’s Services in Mental Health for Student-Athletes

A Pixar movie called Inside Out debuted over the summer, looking inside an 11 year-old girl’s mind to show how her emotions – feelings of joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness – are triggered and at what times or under what circumstances.

Unless you have a younger family member, neighbor, or perhaps a babysitting gig, you may not have caught the movie.

However, whether you’ve seen it or not, (which, children’s movie or not, I highly recommend), it’s groundbreaking in the way it introduces mental health and education to kids at a young age.

A recent column in the Huffington Post about the stresses student-athletes face got me thinking back to when I tagged along with a friend and her kids to see Inside Out, and how the topic of mental health and recognizing different emotions early-on is not only an awesome initiative, but needs to be brought to life and destigmatized throughout other stages of growing up.

Mental health for student-athletes has been an up-and-coming cause within the NCAA and across various sports outlets.

For decades, society’s view of student-athletes has been that of macho-men and infallible women. We’ve labeled student-athletes as a group who seemingly have it all.

But the hardships and anxieties that come with adolescence, that come with growing up, leaving home, trying to perform your best on the field and in the classroom are very, very real for many student-athletes, and something we can’t remain naïve to or ignore any longer.

While celebrating student-athletes and their dedication to their sport – and all that they do for their school – is something I believe in whole-heartedly, it’s time we also realize the very real need of mental health support for these rock star young men and women.

As colleges and their athletic departments begin to build programs for student-athletes, (or continue to develop programs in place), let’s take a look at some things student-athletes can do no matter what school they attend to get help and comfort in the field of mental health.

Ask about the services in mental health for student-athletes while you’re on your campus visit.

Even if you view yourself as perfectly happy, perfectly stable, perfectly perfect when it comes to your mental health and how you cope with ups and downs, I implore you to still inquire about this topic and the help a school offers their student-athletes. Take their services into account when you decide where to attend.

While the obvious hope is for a student-athlete to never have to utilize such services, the reality is that mental health, not injuries, has been declared the number one health and safety concern across the NCAA.

Feelings can sneak up when we least expect them to, and they can prove to be harder to shake then we ever imagine. Find out, in the event you ever need to lean on a professional, how that would work at a school on your list of possibilities.

If you are already in college and want to talk about mental health for student-athletes

Every team – or athletic department – should have a doctor on-hand for their student-athletes.

The misconception is that this doctor is only there for physical injuries. However he or she is also in place to get you the right kind of medical care, period, and that means mental healthcare, too.

While a team doctor may not be the person most-qualified to help in your care, they are the most qualified to help in referring you to the right care.

If a team doctor is not an option for you, and you are feeling ready to seek help, head to the student health center at your school. The staffs of nurses and doctors at student health centers are great with young adults and the many health issues and concerns that come up on college campuses.

As a student at the school, you have access to the health center and after making an appointment, (or walking in if it’s a true emergency), the right professional can be appointed to work with you and be a liaison to the appropriate personnel from your team.

Never underestimate the power of taking a walk with a friend.

This statement is not meant to make light of mental health – or to insinuate that all it takes to cure feelings of anxiety or depression is a conversation and cup of coffee with a friend.

But there is something to be said for taking small steps to relieve yourself of some of the thoughts and feelings you’ve been internalizing.

Opening up to a friend will also provide a reminder that you have people who love you and are there for you. Talking about such personal things, (and things that can feel awkward to bring up), is not easy. In fact, it can be really hard, but when done with the right person, can provide some instant relief and support.

The services a school has for mental health for student-athletes are just one part of finding the right academic, athletic and social fit for you. We can help you determine what other priorities will help you identify the right match. The best way to get started is with a recruiting profile.