Athletes Connected

This past summer I was lucky enough to attend the 2015 Big Sky Conference Health & Wellness Symposium. It was both interesting and informing. I learned more during the two hours of presentations today than I learned during semester-long courses I’ve taken.

The messages delivered during the two presentations really resonated with me. I’m going to focus today’s entry on the first presentation (Athletes Connected) and save the second (You Can Play) for another day.

Athletes Connected is an initiative from the University of Michigan designed to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce the stigma of help-seeking, and promote positive coping skills among student athletes. I had the privilege to hear from Barb Hansen, University of Michigan Athletics Counselor, Kally Fayhee, a former University of Michigan student-athlete, and Will Heininger, Player Development/Recruiting Assistant of Michigan football and former University of Michigan student-athlete.

Both Fayhee and Heininger suffered from depression while they attended school at Michigan. They shared their personal accounts of suffering with a mental illness, the shame that is associated with the stigma of mental illness, and how they overcame it.

During their presentation, these videos were shown.

An interesting finding that their studies have produced is that student-athletes react to mental health issues pretty much the same way everyone else does. So, while the presentation was focused on aiding and assisting student-athletes deal with mental health issues, the notes that I took are applicable to everyone.

  • 33% of student-athletes experience mental health issues.
    • 90% of these student-athletes will not seek help.
  • Coaches and administrators need to create an environment that makes it okay to seek help.
    • Normalize mental health issues just like physical injuries are.
  • Coaches and administrators should never try to diagnose or solve these types of issues. Instead, send them to a specialist.
  • Initiatives of Athletes Connected:
    • Increase awareness of mental health issues
    • Decrease stigma
    • Promote help-seeking and cognitive skills
    • Designed to promote mental health, wellness, and peak performance.
  • Student-athletes face a lot of pressure to constantly perform and improve.
    • On the field, in the classroom, and elsewhere
    • High personal standards, plus meeting expectations from friends, family, and most of all, coaches.
  • Student-athletes who are going experiencing mental health issues can receive unbelievable amounts of assistance and supports by coming out and letting people know of their struggles.
    • This also puts them in a unique situation to be a confidant and beacon of hope for others who are struggling.
  • Coaches and administrators should develop informed mental health programs through feedback from their student athletes.
    • What do they need/want?
    • What would they use?
    • Clearly explain why and how.
    • They are not alone, no one is alone.
  • Studies have shown that student-athletes not only need a platform to address these issues, but they need one as well.
  • The opinions of their respective coaches is what matters most to student-athletes.
  • “Once everyone knew what I was going through, I suddenly had a support network, a safety net.” – William Heininger
  • Be aware of the coping mechanisms of your student-athletes.
    • They can be extremely destructive.
  • Encourage student-athletes, especially members of the same team, to look out for and take care of each other.
    • Teach them how to help their friends.

I was extremely impressed with Athletes Connected. Their message relates closely to what I would like to do my thesis on, but it also resonated with me because of my loved ones who suffer from mental health issues. Even my sweet wife, the absolute brightest and happiest person I have ever met, has battled with bouts of depression.

I learned so many great things today I wish I would have known when my wife was going through postpartum depression. I truly believe that attending this symposium today has made me a better person and a more effective communicator.


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