Many student-athletes experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, but they are often reluctant to seek help for a variety of reasons. The Athletes Connected program, developed with initial funding from an NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant, is a unique collaboration between the University of Michigan School of Social Work, Eisenberg Family Depression Center, and Athletic Department to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce the stigma of help-seeking, and promote positive coping skills among student athletes.
In Dec. 2020, the program released a step-by-step manual. This is a handy guide if you’d like to kick-start a mental health program focused around athletes at your institution. Please credit Athletes Connected as necessary.
Below are some key steps taken by the team in order to implement the pilot program:
Initial planning was completed by the multidisciplinary team and buy-in secured from the administration of relevant departments (Athletics, Eisenberg Family Depression Center, School of Social Work) prior to submission.
Received pilot funding from the NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant
Summer (May – August)
Conducted student-athlete and athletic trainer focus groups
Focus groups were used to refine goals and inform programming. Questions included those around mental health needs, and facilitators and barriers to help-seeking.
From the feedback we received, we developed three initial goals.
- Reduce Stigma
- Promote Help Seeking
- Raise Awareness
Videos were designed to be authentic to the true experiences of the featured student-athletes while considering focus group and expert feedback around tone and production values.
Presentation for entire coaching staff
The presentation was designed to introduce the Athletes Connected program, and included information about student-athlete mental health, support resources, and a screening of the videos followed by a question-and-answer session with the featured student-athletes.
“This is great to address because I coach my kids hard. I want to be able to coach them hard and get the most out of them. But I also want them to know that if something is going on with their health – something medical, something bigger than their sport – that I have an open door and they can come to me. Their health always takes precedent. Then I can tailor the way I’m coaching them, if I know what’s going.”
October and November
Presentations for all athletic teams
The team presentations were about 60 minutes each, and consisted of:
- A brief introduction by Athletic Counselor Barb Hansen, LMSW, which included information on student-athlete mental health and available resources.
- Presentation of the videos featuring Kally and Will, followed by more details of their personal stories
- A casual, open conversation/Q&A session with Kally and Will where the student-athletes could ask questions, either verbally or written on a notecard.
The student-athletes in attendance also filled out survey measures before and after the presentations.
Athletes Connected Education/Support groups
The 75-minute groups were offered bi-weekly and led by a clinical social worker who specializes in working with college students, but is not an employee of the Athletic Department. The groups allowed student-athletes to form relationships, share challenges and successes, and explore active coping-skills. Groups were initially offered on two separate nights during the week in order to establish the most convenient time for student schedules, and were evaluated using pre- and post-test measures.
Below is a list of lessons learned
- Importance of gaining support from Senior Athletic Department Administration
- Coaches’ understanding and support of the program is critical. It gives student-athletes permission to work on their mental health and well being, in the same way they do their physical health.
- Including engaging, relevant content featuring student-athletes is a powerful way to reach the target audience.
- Unique scheduling challenges of student-athletes must be considered.
- Input and involvement of student-athletes and other key individuals (e.g. athletic trainers, academic support staff) in program planning and ongoing evaluation is essential.
- Important to elicit input from licensed clinicians regarding the design and dissemination of mental health-related content.
- Must consider human resources capacity and the need to have support services in place when raising awareness – some student-athletes will want to follow up with a clinician!
- Student-athletes want to talk about this!
THE TEAM. THE TEAM. THE TEAM.
Athletes Connected is run by a dedicated group of mental health professionals and staffers. Click the photo below to learn more about those who make our team run.
- Read relevant articles and stories about athletes, mental illness as well as associated research and thought leadership pieces.
- Athletes Connected distributes a quarterly newsletter that shares the latest news of the program and relevant student-athlete mental health from around the country.
- If you have any comments or questions about Athletes Connected, let us know.