How The University Of Michigan Is Bringing Mental Health Care To Its Student Athletes

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By Alexandra Svokos

Will Heininger, a sport management major at the University of Michigan, was living what was supposed to be a dream. He was playing football for UM, a school that shapes the entire character of Ann Arbor, the city where Heininger grew up. But at 19, he found himself struggling with depression — not that he knew to call it that, at the time. What he knew was that he had “no motivation” and could find “no pleasure in anything,” as he would later describe it.

“It’s wonderful to play a sport collegiately, but only if it’s a positive experience in your life,” Heininger told The Huffington Post last week.

Ultimately, his athletic trainer realized that Heininger was struggling and set him up with a therapist.

“My life went from 100 to zero, and then to better than ever after getting help and understanding what depression is and how common it is,” Heininger said.

Heininger graduated in 2011. Three years later, he returned to UM to help develop Athletes Connected, a program that helps guide the school’s athletes to any mental health resources they may need.

Athletes Connected was created this past spring after the NCAA awarded the university an Innovations in Research and Practice Grant to create a “model program for supporting the mental health of student athletes.” The program is a collaboration between the university’s School of Public Health, its Athletic Department and its Depression Center, which specializes in depression research.

Although college athletes tend to receive good physical care, their mental well-being is not always seen as a priority.

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