Calin Bracken reached out to Vanderbilt to play lacrosse, already well aware of the importance of athlete mental health. She knew of at least two female athletes from the college, one from near her where she grew up, who took their own lives.
Bracken was overwhelmed by college life, especially when she had to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 after a few days on campus. He decided to leave the team.
“I was so self-conscious. I was kind of relying on my intuition so much, and it sounds cliche, but the idea that I love, I need to go home, even if it’s in the context of my career path.” I don’t feel like the right decision. Or my reputation or something,” she said. “…I felt like when I went to college, my nervous system was out of control. I couldn’t process anything. I was constantly feeling overwhelmed. I never felt safe.”
Then there was the first death of at least five college athletes – Stanford soccer goalkeeper Katie Meyer – all of which took their own lives this spring. This raised concerns that colleges were not doing enough for some of their high-profile students.
Bracken Writes an Open Letter to College SportsCalling upon the coaches and administrators to become more aware of the challenges faced by athletes in fulfilling not only their competitive side but also their social and academic responsibilities.
It is not clear whether American college athletes are taking their own lives at a higher rate than others in their age range; The NCAA declined to share with the Associated Press whether it tracks athlete suicides. But universities are starting to pay attention to the mental health of their athletes to varying degrees—and that’s partly because athletes are advocating for themselves and their peers.
“Mental health support should be treated in the same way as academic support and injury prevention and injuries,” said Nova Southeastern’s athletic director Michael Momini.
For many schools, the focus began before the pandemic. This includes James Madison, where sophomore softball player Lauren Burnett took her own life on April 25.
Tim Miller, vice president of student affairs at James Madison, said, “What we’ve seen is over the last decade … (a) a significant increase in mental health concerns, with a lot of students coming into college with mental health concerns. ” Rest of softball season canceled After Burnett’s death. “And what we have really seen in the pandemic of the last two and a half, three years is exponential growth. So if you imagine it as a graph, it has climbed up very quickly.”
According to federal data, suicides among the 15-24 age group in the US increased from 4,600 in 2010 to 6,062 in 2020. An analysis published in the Journal of Sports Health in 2015 found that 35 NCAA athletes took their own lives over a nine-year period (2003-04 to 2011-12), and there were many more similar deaths of college athletes in the years that followed.
This year, Meyer, whose saves in two shootouts helped the Cardinals win the 2019 national championship, took his own life on March 1. A month later, it was Robert Martin, graduate student goalkeeper on the Binghamton lacrosse team. A day later, Northern Michigan track athlete Jayden Hill dead. Sarah SchulzeA junior who ran cross country and track in Wisconsin died on April 13. Then there was Burnett, followed by Southern University’s freshman cheerleader Arianna Miller. on May 4
Only half of the 9,808 NCAA athletes surveyed at the end of 2021 He said he believes mental health is a priority for his athletics department. The survey, which included athletes from all three divisionsshowed that 63% believed that their peers took mental health concerns seriously, and 56% knew how to help a teammate experiencing a mental health problem.
Athletes have less confidence in their coaches taking mental health concerns seriously, with 53% believing that’s the case.
Division II is a program within Nova Southeastern’s athletics department that integrates mental health with other important pieces of athletes’ lives. Momini, who has been at the school for two decades and also coaches baseball there, pointed to 2016 as a turning point.
He said there were many athletes who were trying to hurt themselves and “acting as if they were looking for help” – things that needed more than just “mental skills training”. As part of the rollout of the Academic, Injury and Mental Health Program, Momini and his leadership team had candid conversations with coaches, receiving both immediate buy-in and immediate pushback.
“We feel like we’re with them all the time, more than 20 hours a week. We’re always in touch. We recruit,” said Momini. “But you don’t really know them until you don’t know them.” Know. You don’t know what’s going on with Mom or Dad.”
Nova Southeastern didn’t increase its budget when it made mental health a priority, he said, and doesn’t believe the NCAA is doing enough to help member schools with mental health programs, even Grant money will also be helpful.
“We find ways to accomplish this,” he said of DII schools. “It’s a priority, we’ll make it work, whether it’s funding or not funding … and I think the NCAA makes it a priority.”
Brian Heinlein has been the NCAA’s chief medical officer since 2013. He said the athletes immediately told him that mental health was their top priority.
“I was hardly at work, and the student-athletes were clearly not only concerned, but that they were speaking honestly, saying they saw it as important as anything else,” he said. “I think in that respect, they were ahead of others in some ways because of course that wasn’t always the sentiment in sports medicine.”
Heinline oversees the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute, which provides resources such as mental health best practices, workshop templates, and planning tools. He said the SSI also talks to people in athletic departments who make sure the recommendations are being followed and that everyone knows who the mental health providers are and what the protocols are for mental health access.
“For every campus (follow the recommendations), we will be far ahead of the game,” Heinlein said. “But it’s challenging sometimes, and I think mental health isn’t in the same terminology as ankle sprains and knee/ACL injuries and things like that.”
Eric Price, Pac-12 associate commissioner for compliance and governance, worked with athletes, the conference’s mental health task force, and Henline on a 2019 proposal to codify mental health as part of the NCAA’s medical spending bylaws. While mental health services have already fallen into medical expenses, Price said he thinks the “declarative statement” destroyed mental health for athletes and “large intercollegiate athletic departments.”
In early May, the Associated Press requested 10 Pac-12 Conference public universities to budget for mental health resources or athletic departments’ mental health programs. Both Utah and Oregon said they did not have such budgets; Private schools Southern California and Stanford declined to provide information to the Associated Press.
In Colorado, the Office of Psychological Health and Performance within the Athletic Department increased its budget by approximately $128,000 between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, and nearly $16,000 more for the school year that just ended. A CU spokesperson said the extra money went to a new 24/7 crisis hotline and software in 2019 as well as the cost of hiring new employees.
The other seven public Pac-12 universities did not provide budgetary information until June 2.
Price said the current generation of college students deserves a lot of credit for bringing mental health to the fore.
“I believe this is a generational shift in college athletics that, like any generational change, has caused some upset to the older generation,” he said, later adding that Gen Z “must speak to each other about their feelings.” are not shy to talk to” — and they’re wondering how and when their coach and the adults in the room will connect with them, and more.”
Bracken’s coach, Beth Hewitt, supported her decision to leave the team and assured her that she would still have a place if she returned. Hewitt believes it is a “really big mistake” if athletic departments are not thinking about the pressures that athletes deal with.
“Unfortunately, we have seen so many athletes take their own lives over the years…wins and forget about the individual,” she said.