I was recently invited to guest lecture for the San Diego State University Athletic Training Education Program on the topic of psychology of injury and other mental health topics. I was excited for the opportunity; time with students is always rejuvenating and keeps me current. This particular lecture was meant to focus generally on athlete mental health and reviewing the recent consensus statement issued by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), Interassociation Recommendations for Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student-Athletes with Psychological Concerns at the Secondary School Level: A Consensus Statement. As professionals we talk so much about the things we can all do to ensure the physical safety of our athletes that I thought this would be a great opportunity to remember that overall health includes physical and mental health.
Athletic trainers are not only trained to recognize physical injuries, but can also recognize when an athlete may be suffering mental distress. As I was preparing for the lecture and reviewing the position statement and other relevant materials I came across a publication from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Mind, Body and Sport: Understanding and Supporting Student-Athlete Mental Wellness. While directed at college-age athletes, there are many useful resources here for youth athletes as well. This is a great tool with firsthand accounts of what it’s like to be an athlete who is struggling with anxiety, mood disorder or even the potential side effects of a recent concussion. As a parent would you be able to recognize potential mental health triggers in your young athlete or potential at-risk behaviors? Do you know what the available resources are in your community or at your child’s school? Do you have concerns about the mental health of your young athlete(s)? Talk to your child’s athletic trainer, express your concern, especially if you think it may be sport related such as a significant injury or decreased playing time. The culture of sport can be a challenging one to navigate as a young person - you’re supposed to be tough, “suck it up” and show no signs of weakness. The athletic trainer can be a valuable resource in helping young athletes navigate the many challenges that face young athletes.
Have a concern about the mental wellbeing of your young athlete? Disorders that athletic trainers are trained to recognize:
• Eating disorders
• Anxiety disorder
• Mood disorders and depression
• Substance abuse
• Sleeping disorders
Being injured can cause significant mental distress. Athletic trainers can recognize an athlete who is struggling emotionally as well as physically from an injury. An injury itself can be a significant trigger, especially if it means missed playing time or the end of a career. Additionally, severe concussions can potentially lead to mood disorders, depression or a sleep disorder. Athletic trainers can help athletes make a full recovery, both physical and psychological by recognizing the issues and utilizing the available resources.
Being prepared for potentially catastrophic situations are very important, but athletic trainers are also critical in helping athletes maintain their overall well-being. Athletes perform at their best when they are healthy – physically and emotionally. Athletic trainers are trained to ensure an athlete’s overall wellbeing, not just physical recovery from injury. Are you using your athletic trainer to their fullest potential? The team approach to your athlete's overall health is the best approach and that team should always include the athletic trainer.
-Heather Clemons, MS, MBA, ATC