Did You Know? Student-Athletes Need Mental-Health Services, Too

A new NAIA–Mantra Health partnership hopes to address the problem.

Did you know that 92 percent of NAIA athletic departments wish they could offer psychiatric services designed specifically for their athletes? As mental-health awareness surges among higher-ed faculty and students, sports departments are increasingly concerned with their athletes’ mental well-being. Schools belonging to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics are no exception, and the NAIA recently partnered with Mantra Health to address this perceived need.

Following the new affiliation, Mantra Health interviewed 50-plus NAIA members, including 39 athletic directors, to better understand the mental-health issues that sports departments face. Respondents identified three major factors affecting their student-athletes: balancing academic and athletic responsibilities (listed by 92 percent of respondents), interpersonal relationships (82 percent), and financial stability (77 percent).

Relevant training for coaches and staff is essential.Of the interviewees, 92 percent reported that their institutions offer on-campus counseling services. Unfortunately, these centers’ regular business hours tend not to align with athletes’ schedules. Additional concerns include that athletes might fail to show up to appointments due to fear of being recognized. 78 percent of respondents stated that they make use of off-campus referral options but have no way of knowing whether an athlete attends an appointment or has the financial ability to afford such meetings.

A number of respondents identified the mental-health warning signs they see in players. Some of the most concerning were self-harm, isolation from teammates, missing class, skipping practices, decreased motivation, and “failing out” of school. 90 percent of athletic department staff believe that mental-health training should be offered to coaches and athletic directors. Furthermore, 86 percent propose offering it to students, as well.

Mantra Health suggests a four-step plan for fighting mental-health problems:

1. Training. Relevant training for coaches and staff is undeniably essential. It would help athletes’ mentors better recognize and address mental-health concerns.

2. Awareness. Because student-athletes’ responsibilities are quite demanding, Mantra Health suggests more openness concerning mental-health issues. “The more that’s known about mental health, the easier it is to recognize and identify a mental-health problem.”

3. Collaboration. Most institutions offer on-campus counseling services; however, it would be highly beneficial to student-athletes if athletic departments strengthened their relationships with campus providers.

4. Funding. Athletic departments, especially within a small-college association like the NAIA, have limited budgets. Still, there are many ways to address mental health, “including compiling a reliable and updated list of mental-health resources.”

Like it or not, the mental-health crisis on America’s campuses is real. As awareness grows, organizations like Mantra Health should continue to seek solutions for the greater well-being of all students.

Pierre Boutrand was a summer ’22 intern at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and is a sophomore studying psychology at Belmont Abbey College.