In 2017, 13.1% of 18-24 year olds suffered a major depressive disorder. Eating disorders, anxiety and stress are also causing major problems with college-aged individuals. The issue of mental health and how to treat it is becoming more and more vital for colleges, and also for athletic departments.
So what options are there for a Michigan student-athlete?
Put simply, there are many. There’s one-on-one counseling available, group therapy, allyship programs with the LGBTQ+ community, a sexual health program, international student alliances and even yoga. There’s seven counselors, some of whom are interns, dieticians, and student liaisons.
“We have consistent people, utilizers, of our other support groups like Athlete Ally and SASH (Student Athlete Sexual Health),” director of athletic counseling Abigail Eiler said. “So we definitely get our programming to meet the needs of the community we’re trying to work with, trying to support.”
And when there isn’t a community up and running to help support an athlete, they’re encouraged to start one. Like when senior thrower Briana Nelson started Wolverines Against Racism back in June to help her and other Black student athletes cope with the trauma of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths.
Those groups see varying membership. WAR’s summer calls had hundreds on the line, but sometimes a group like that can’t provide the solutions people are looking for. When that happens, there’s counseling available too.
“We provide direct individual services and treatments across the spectrum of care,” Eiler said. “Those that are coming in to optimize their performance to those that are looking to receive evidence-based treatment and practices about their mental health and wellness. … In addition to our individual psychotherapy we provide, we also have group psychotherapy and then support groups that run within the athletic department.”
There are several routes a player may go through to get counseling via the athletic department.
If an athlete begins to feel depressed or anxious, or experiences anything else that inspires them to seek counseling, they can reach out to the counseling team.
“Other ways that they come in, sometimes our athletic trainers or the team physician might refer student athletes to us, coaches have referred student athletes to us, other teammates,” Eiler said. “Our dieticians are amazing at connecting student athletes to our counseling team. So there’s really no one way to come in. You can really come in any door.”
One of the hardest parts about getting someone to try therapy is often the stigma surrounding counseling, and that’s where Athletes Connected, a part of the athletic department, comes in. It’s not a counseling service, but it does help. Its employees attend practices and games, lead group sessions and it puts on those weekly yoga sessions. Its website is basically a list of where and how to get help, and they publish videos meant to deal with the stigma surrounding mental health.
“It’s kind of like tiers, if there’s tiers of care,” program coordinator Rachel Amity said. “Athletes Connected is kind of operating at the lower tier. Everyone has access to Athletes Connected, it’s approaching from a preventative, early intervention level where anyone can access it, or people more passionate about it can opt in to the services, but then you get that top-tier, individual level that is athletic counseling.”
If you are a student struggling with mental health, help can be found CAPS.
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