Three ways to support student-athletes’ well-being

Recounting his own mental health challenges as a Division I student-athlete, John MacPhee, CEO of The Jed Foundation—which seeks to protect the emotional health of and prevent suicide among teens and young adults—recently highlighted the “inherent difficulty” of the lifestyle. Many student-athletes, he writes in Higher Ed Dive, juggle work alongside their studies, training, competition, and social lives. Data from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University also indicate that many college athletes face food and housing insecurity.

However, athletes may “fear losing scholarships, playing time, or even their degrees” if they need to take a step back to address mental health concerns, MacPhee says. He calls on U.S. colleges and universities to foster a “culture of caring for student-athletes,” suggesting three steps institutions can take to reduce the stigma around mental health and ensure student-athletes can access help when they need it:

  1. Diversifying athletics staff. NCAA research finds that mental health concerns remain the highest among LGBTQ students, women, and student-athletes of color. By investing in hiring diverse athletics staff, institutions can increase the likelihood that student-athletes will feel at ease asking them for help.
  2. Create a culture of openness. Athletics leadership should prioritize students’ wellbeing and raise awareness of mental health services by openly talking about these issues with students, reinforcing the difficulty of the student-athlete balancing act, and collaborating with counseling centers to provide assistance and mental health screenings.  
  3. Encourage students to seek help when they need it. To ensure students receive the help they need, athletics staff should normalize athletes visiting their college counseling center to access a range of wellness services.

Importance of seeking counseling

Counseling centers in particular can play an important role in boosting retention and reinforcing student success, Inside Higher Ed reports. The 2022 Annual Report from Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH), the first large-scale report on risk factors for voluntary withdrawal, finds that students who participated in extracurricular activities and whose academic distress was significantly reduced during counseling, were 51% less likely to withdraw from school.

Georgetown Athletics: Supporting a culture of care
Georgetown Athletics believes that competitive success is possible only when we care for our student-athletes across all aspects of their lives, in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, or care for the whole person. Read more about this commitment and the crucial role of academic, nutrition, mental health, and other resources in making sure student-athletes can thrive, in all aspects of their lives.

Topics in this story

Next Up

Building bridges to college for traditionally underrepresented students

Hoping to strengthen the path to higher education, college exposure programs and non-profit organizations are creating opportunities for high school students from historically underrepresented communities to earn credits and see themselves in that environment.