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Mental health in athletes

Dak Prescott’s openness about his mental health struggles this week is bringing the topic of athletes and mental illness back to light. Prescott certainly is not the only football player to openly admit to struggling with mental health issues. Other football players have shared their experiences including Terry Bradshaw, who opened up about his battle with clinical depression in 2010. 

Last year, aware of the growing need for more mental health support, the NFL-NFLPA enacted the Behavior Health Agreement. This initiative requires all 32 teams to have a behavioral/mental health professional on staff. The goal of this initiative is to expand the use of mental health resources to players and remove the stigma surrounding mental health needs. 

Studies show that 35% of professional athletes struggle with mental health, while 25% of college athletes show signs of mental health concerns. Of that 25%, only 10% seek help. 

In 2019 the Power Five conferences voted to make the availability of mental health services to athletes mandatory. Six years before that the NCAA declared mental health its number one concern for health and safety. “Mental health is the single most important health and safety issue facing our student-athletes today,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer at the NCAA’s Annual Convention earlier this year. 

Many small colleges, and high schools don’t have mental health professionals at their convenience which puts the pressure on coaches and trainers. Far too many teams know the pain of losing a teammate/player to a mental health crisis. Fortunately, athletes speaking out about their struggles has led to more conversations surrounding these issues and an influx of organizations and people focusing on de-stigmatizing mental health in male athletes. Many in athletics hope that mental health becomes treated similarly to physical injury in athletes. 

Now more than ever, amid a pandemic, being aware of mental health concerns in players is increasingly important. In a sport founded on the concept of mental toughness, it is important to be aware of the mental health concerns of players. September is National Suicide Awareness Month and right now is a great time to check-in with your athletes. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255. It provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.