Reno Gazette Journal: Nevada women’s basketball adds a focus on mental health

Below is an excerpt from a Reno Gazette Journal story about the Nevada women’s hoops team improving its mental health and wellness.

By Chris Murray

he Nevada women’s basketball team is working to improve its on-court skill, its conditioning and its chemistry this offseason just like every other school, but it has added one additional summer goal: improving its mental health and wellness, which is becoming an increasingly open topic in the world of high-level athletics.

When head coach Amanda Levens, who is entering her second season leading the Wolf Pack, was at last year’s Final Four, one of the guest speakers there was ESPN’s Kate Fagan, who authored “What Made Maddy Run,” the story of Madison Holleran, an All-American runner who committed suicide during her freshman season at Penn in 2014. After that session, Levens was inspired to make mental health a priority for her program.

“Our name for it is ‘Protect our Pack,” Levens said. “Every week we’ve had one session. We’ve done healthy relationships, drug and alcohol education, distress management, emotional regulation, peak performance with a sports psychologist.”

Nevada added six freshmen this offseason and research shows rates for teen depression and suicide have skyrocketing since 2011. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24, with more than 4,500 per year in that age group, although the rate is significantly lower for NCAA athletes than the general population.

Levens didn’t have any specific reason for concern about her players, but the lesson from “What Made Maddy Run” is it’s difficult to know if somebody is struggling with mental health issues.

“She basically dealt with depression and masked it through social media,” Levens said. “Anybody who looked back at her social media would say, ‘This was a happy kid. She was doing well. She was a straight ‘A’ student at Penn. She had all of these things going for her, so why would she commit suicide? How did we miss how bad it really was for her?’ It talks a lot about not taking stuff at face value, at social media value and understanding where they’re at and how do you find out where they’re at and dig deeper?”

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