Student Athletes and Mental Health: Webinar Recap

Recently, Kognito hosted a webinar on the importance of student athlete mental health as the crisis continues to increase in colleges, universities, and high schools. This discussion was led by our panel of experts: Dr. Glenn Albright, Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Kognito, Dr. Tomika Ferguson, Assistant Dean and Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, and Kaillie Humphries, professional athlete and four-time Olympian in the Women’s Bobsled.

Dr. Albright and Dr. Ferguson discussed the pressures of managing sport, academics, and social activities as well as strategies for managing mental health and how student athletes can support a teammate in distress. They also discussed the role of gatekeeper training for athletes and how coaches, educators, and staff can leverage motivational interviewing to intervene and support student athlete well-being. The webinar also included a conversation with four-time Olympian of the US and Canadian Women’s Bobsled, Kaillie Humphries, who discussed mental health from the perspective of a professional athlete.

Continue reading for highlights of the discussion, or watch the full webinar here.

Startling Mental Health Statistics

Approximately 500,000 NCAA Athletes participate in 24 sports at 1,100 member institutions (Division I, II, and III). In a NCAA Student Athlete Well-being Survey conducted in 2021, it was found that a large majority felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities as both students and athletes. This includes feelings of sadness or depression, mental exhaustion, and overwhelming feelings of anxiety for both men and women athletes. This confirms the realization that student athletes suffer from unseen stressors and struggles that often lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms due to lack of mental health services and tools.

The Role of Student Athletes as Gatekeepers

A gatekeeper is someone who is trained to identify signs of psychological distress and is able to approach that person and have a conversation with them using evidence-based communication strategies that make them feel comfortable and safe. Gatekeepers are also able to understand, refer, and utilize available support services. It’s important that student athletes receive this knowledge and training to be able to better support and understand the needs of teammates that may be experiencing emotional distress.

“We need to learn from each other. We need to understand each other better. The real aspect of life is that mental health is the most important thing when it comes to our health.” – Kaillie Humphries

Virtual Role-Play Can Help Student Athletes

Our interactive product, At-Risk Mental Health for Students, was developed with input from national subject matter experts and end users. Recently, a study was conducted with 2,408 student athletes from 69 schools where they were asked to complete a baseline pre-survey, then complete the At-Risk simulation, followed by a post-simulation survey and a three-month follow-up survey. It was found that:

  • 98% of student athletes rated the training as “excellent”, “very good” or “good”.
  • 94% of all student athletes agreed or strongly agreed that all students in their school should be taking the training.
  • 86% of student athletes would recommend the training to their friends and peers.

As a result of this simulation, it was found that there was a significant increase that part of the role of student athletes is to connect students experiencing distress to mental health support services. There was also a significant increase in the likelihood of student athletes seeking mental health services for themselves when experiencing psychological distress.

Once this study has been published, you can read it in full at the Journal of Athlete Development & Experience.

Mental Health and the Athlete Perspective

Kaillie Humphries, a four-time Olympic medalist in the Women’s Bobsled, is a mental health advocate and provided her elite athlete perspective on its importance. The conversation highlighted the importance of destigmatizing mental health not only among student athletes, but for everyone. The stressors that student athletes endure is significant, and it’s vital for them to have the resources, services, and gatekeeper training to not only help their own mental health but also those of their peers and teammates.

“The biggest thing we can do is meet the athlete, student athlete, and just student where they’re at. To meet that person where they’re at and [give them] what they need. It’s not about judgement. If they are feeling stressed over family, health, sport, or school, it’s not our job to judge what they are feeling. We cannot control what they are feeling, and we cannot change their thought process. What we can do is provide them with the tools and the skills they need in order for them to feel like it’s not all on their shoulders, specifically all alone.” – Kaillie Humphries

Watch the Full Webinar Today

Want to learn more about student athlete mental health and what your school can do to help destigmatize emotional distress? Watch the full webinar presentation here. If you want to learn more about Kognito’s solutions for mental health & well-being, we invite you to contact us or to request a personalized demo today.

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