Contacts: Laurel Thomas Gnagney, David Ablauf, Kara Gavin
ANN ARBOR—A video opens with a young couple sitting in a car. The woman turns to the man and in a gentle, reassuring voice says: “This doesn’t change who you are. And this is something a lot of people go through.”
Perhaps no truer words than her last sentence have been spoken when it comes to students and mental health, experts say.
“One in three students experiences significant symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Yet only about 30 percent of those students seek help, and that number drops to 10 percent for student-athletes,” said Daniel Eisenberg, associate professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He also holds positions with the Institute for Social Research and the U-M Comprehensive Depression Center.
A partnership between academics and athletics at U-M recently received $50,000 from the NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program to address this concern, by developing mental health initiatives for student-athletes and evaluating their impact.
The man in the car is former U-M football player Will Heininger. He and former U-M swimmer Kally Fayhee have joined the team that includes the School of Public Health, the Depression Center and Michigan Athletics, to change the conversation about athletes and mental health.
The project includes development of a program to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and to encourage student-athletes to seek help if needed. For the past few weeks, the partners have been sharing mental health information with U-M athletic teams, showing the videos featuring Heininger and Fayhee, and providing informal, drop-in support groups for student-athletes, which are designed to specifically address their unique concerns and stressors.