The University of Michigan has implemented a program called Athletes Connected, designed to help university athletes access any mental health treatments they might require. This program was formed from collaboration among the Michigan School of Public Health, its athletic department and its depression center.
As noted by The Huffington Post, athletes reportedly do not seek access to mental health resources at the same rate as the rest of the student body. This may be because students want to project an image of toughness and self-reliance. Furthermore, they may fear that their team will see them as a liability, negatively impacting their reputation on amount of playing time.
In order to address this problem, Athletes Connected strives to educate student athletes about available mental health services through presentations and videos shown to university teams. The program has also introduced support groups the athletes can join if they wish. The program hopes to help students recognize the symptoms of mental illnesses and how to deal with these issues while keeping on top of a packed schedule.
This initiative has had demonstrable benefits. The Huffington Post reports, “‘I have never been so busy in this position,’ said Hansen (social worker in athletics), describing a recent deluge of students scheduling appointments with counselors. ... ‘An uptick in students meeting with mental health counselors doesn’t mean that more people are suddenly having problems. It just means more people are seeking help.’”
Given the evidence that student athletes are less likely to access mental health resources, the work Athletes Connected is doing at Michigan is vital. Athletes are a segment of the student body who are at greater risk of leaving mental health issues untreated, jeopardizing their long-term health and wellbeing. It is important for universities to foster an atmosphere of support and understanding for student athletes struggling with mental illness. No one should feel afraid to seek the services and treatments they need due to social stigma.
The presentations and services provided by Athletes Connected will let athletes know that dealing with mental health problems is nothing to be ashamed of and that the university community is there to help them if they need it. Reducing the stigma of seeking help for mental illness and helping students get the help they need will likely result in a happier and healthier student body. This should be a priority at all universities. After all, a happy and healthy community is something we can all get behind.