Sports psychologist Angel Brutus noticed one of her student-athlete clients motioning for her to come over during a post-practice team huddle. The team had just concluded a great practice, during which the athlete, dominant and focused, received praises for performance from teammates.
But upon reaching the athlete, Brutus immediately recognized there was a problem. “The athlete was having a panic attack,” Brutus explained. “They had arousal levels so high that, from the coach’s perspective, they were on point. But because the athlete and I had been working with each other and they understood my role with the team, they were able to pull me to the side. They couldn’t talk. I had to intervene in getting their arousal levels low enough so they can articulate what was going on with them.”
This is only one example of the countless situations Brutus and other health professionals have encountered while working with student-athletes. In a two-day session at the Black Student-Athlete Summit in Austin, Texas, a number of health professionals educated and engaged attendees in discussions focusing largely on the mental health and well-being of student-athletes.
In 2014, a survey conducted by the American College Health Association found that about 30 percent of the 195,000 respondents reported feeling depressed in 12 months, and 50 percent reported feeling overwhelming anxiety during the same period. There was also a correlation between anxiety and depression, and poor athletic performance, low grades, substance abuse and suicide.
A nine-year analysis of the NCAA resolutions database showed that suicide was the third-leading cause of death among college-age individuals and the second-leading cause of death among college students.
Caroline Brackette, an associate professor of counseling at Mercer University who works closely with student-athletes, found that one of the issues that might deter college athletes from seeking help is the lack of willingness to express themselves, which may stem from the idea that seeking help and dealing with mental health issues are taboo, especially in the black community. Brackette believes one way for counseling and therapy to become the norm is if people, especially student-athletes, view mental health the same way they view their physical health.
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