As colleges grapple with the decision of when to resume athletic competition, the NCAA’s chief medical officer suggested mental health issues — especially among Black athletes — are getting insufficient attention.
“That’s often not discussed in this whole return to sport, is how are we addressing mental health issues,’’ said Dr. Brian Hainline, a clinical professor of neurology at Indiana University School of Medicine and New York University School of Medicine and the NCAA’s chief medical officer.
Hainline emphasized the issue Wednesday during an online symposium focusing in part on COVID-19 and the return to sports. He said an NCAA survey of more than 37,000 athletes showed that Black athletes are disproportionately negatively affected by mental health issues.
Mental health concerns were highest among respondents of color, those whose families are facing economic hardship and those living alone, according to an NCAA news release about the findings of the survey, which was conducted April 10-May 1.
College athletes' mental health was a key focus of Wednesday's symposium. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)
Greater financial pressures and more instability at home among Black athletes make separation from their teammates an even bigger issue, said M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University and a panelist during the session moderated by Hainline.
“We have to deal with those aspects with the same rigor and concentration as we do social distancing, wearing masks, sanitation of facilities,’’ Wilson said. “All those things are good. But we’ve got to look at the well-being of our student athletes also, because they’re not going to be able to come back if they don’t."
Thomas C. Katsouleas, president of the University of Connecticut, said athletic conferences are concerned about mental health problems among students athletes, adding that emotionally supportive mentors, support from teams and a connection between curriculum and real-world experience can be beneficial.
“I think across the country, we have to come up with proactive approaches as well as reactive approaches,’’ he said. “There’s just not enough therapists in the world to solve the problem purely reactively.’’
During the symposium, which was sponsored by the Roundtable on Black Men and Black Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine, Wilson said athletes specifically are less likely than the general student body to seek help for mental health concerns. “There’s the image of them, I guess, of their being strong and resilient,’’ he said. “And I think that’s probably part of the issue.’’
Hainline said the NCAA worked with the National Medical Association to explore the issue, and Katsouleas added, “we’re taking a look at comprehensively at UConn.’’
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