Mental health issues remain on the minds of student-athletes

As an extension of two NCAA student-athlete wellness studies conducted in 2020, student-athletes continue to report high levels of mental health issues.

The data indicates that rates of mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression have changed little since the fall of 2020 and remain 1.5 to twice as high as those identified before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, student-athletes reported lower levels of hopelessness in the fall of 2021 than in the first year of the pandemic.

The Association-wide investigation, which was open from November 17 to December 17. 13, received responses from over 9,800 student-athletes. It was designed by NCAA Research in conjunction with the NCAA Institute of Sports Science and the Division I, II and III Student-Athlete Advisory Committees.

This study did not measure the responses of student-athletes compared to the general student population, which also struggles with these mental health issues.

When asked about mental health support, 69% of female sport participants and 63% of male sport participants agreed or strongly agreed that they knew where to go on the campus if they had mental health issues.

Under the NCAA constitution, each member school is responsible for facilitating an environment that supports physical and mental health within athletics by ensuring access to appropriate resources and open engagement with regards to physical health. and mental.

But when asked if they would feel comfortable seeking help from a mental health care provider on campus, less than half of female and male sports participants said they would agree or strongly agree with this statement (48% and 46%, respectively).

Continuing outreach efforts on campus is one way to try to change the disconnect between knowing where to go if mental health issues arise and feeling comfortable asking for that help.

“A lot of what influences the focus on this topic is the type of conversations that happen on campus around mental health,” said Scott Hamilton, clinical mental health advisor at DePauw. “Are there groups on campus, either through the athletics department or through counseling services, using their voice to help reduce stigma?”

Hamilton is also the student-athlete mental health coordinator at DePauw. In this role, Hamilton has witnessed firsthand how student-athlete attitudes can change.

He said it is fascinating to conduct mindfulness training or psychological flexibility training with a team.

“Within a week or two, you start seeing familiar faces pop up at the counseling center,” said Hamilton, who has worked at DePauw for 12 years. “When college campuses are ready to have open conversations about the importance of mental health, taking care of yourself mentally can ease the apprehension of student-athletes seeking help.”

The Institute of Sport Science provides health and safety resources for varsity athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, and campus partners. Educational resources on mental health include a review of best practices, data and research, as well as summits and task forces.

The survey included a question about teammates taking each other’s mental health issues seriously. Sixty-five percent of female sport participants and 58% of male sport participants agreed or strongly agreed. Similarly, 56% of both male and female sport participants said they know how to help a teammate with a mental health issue.

When asked if they thought their mental health was a priority for their athletic department, 55% of male athletic participants and 47% of female athletic student-athletes agreed or strongly agreed.

When asked if their coaches took their mental health issues seriously, 59% of male sport participants agreed or strongly agreed, and 50% of female sport participants did.

Mental health issues during the pandemic

Mental health issues continued to be highest among student-athlete demographic subgroups with generally higher rates of mental distress (women, student-athletes of color, those who identify with the queer spectrum, and those who declare family economic difficulties).

This survey, along with the two previous surveys, asked participants if they felt mentally drained, had difficulty sleeping, felt overwhelming anxiety, felt sad, felt a sense of loss, or thought things were hopeless.

The largest percentage point decrease was seen among female athletes surveyed for feelings of loneliness or hopelessness.

Sixteen percent of women’s sports participants said they felt very lonely all the time or almost every day, a drop of 5 percentage points from the fall 2020 survey. Ten percent of women’s sports respondents said feeling like things were hopeless, compared to 16% who answered this way in the previous survey.

Thirty-eight percent of female athletes and 22% of male athletes reported feeling mentally exhausted constantly or almost every day, the most commonly reported concern.

Academic experiences

Student-athletes expressed more optimism about their ability to attend and succeed in their fall 2021 classes compared to spring and fall 2020.

Half of student-athletes were satisfied with their ability to balance study and extracurricular activities, including athletics. Self-reported balance was higher in male athletes (56%) than in females (47%).

Transfer Factors

Since the Division I governance structure amended one-time transfer exception rules to include baseball, soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s ice hockey prior to the 2021-22 college year, transfers have become a more hot topic with media and fans alike.

Eight percent of all student-athletes responding said they were likely to transfer at some point in the 2021-22 academic year.

Mental health (61% of female athletes, 40% of male athletes), conflict with a coach or teammates (56% of female athletes, 34% of male athletes) and playing time (34% of female athletes, 36 % of athletic men) were the most cited reasons for considering transfers, among those who considered doing so at some point in the year.

Racial and Gender Equity

Student-athletes continue to volunteer in their communities, participate in social and civic engagement activities, and learn about injustices for themselves.

Eighty-four percent of female sports respondents and 78% of male sports respondents said they occasionally or frequently volunteer. Two-thirds of male and female sports participants said they occasionally or frequently discuss politics.

When it comes to engagement with racial justice in the past six months, 81% of female sports participants and 73% of male sports participants have taken an active role in learning more about race or justice racial by themselves. More than 60% of female and male sports participants said they had conversations with teammates that focused on race or racial justice.

When it comes to commitment to gender equity, 72% of female sport participants and 56% of male sport participants said they actively try to learn about gender equity from themselves. same. Fifty-eight percent of women and 46% of men occasionally or frequently had gender-focused conversations with teammates.

Educational resources

Student-athletes were the most likely to indicate a desire for educational resources on taxation and financial literacy; Career Objective; navigate name, image, and likeness opportunities; and professional opportunities in sport.

Fifty percent of female sport participants and 49% of male sport participants wanted more resources on tax literacy and education.

When it comes to NIL navigation opportunities, 42% of male sport participants and 39% of female sport participants said they wanted more educational resources.

Forty-one percent of male sports participants and 35% of female sports participants surveyed wanted resources regarding career opportunities in their sport.


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