Supporting the Mental Health of Student Athletes
Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.
Young adult mental health is a rising concern—and athletes are no different. The pressures many student athletes feel, whether self-imposed, put on by others, or both, are higher than average, and can contribute to rapid declines in mental health.
Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and substance misuse are just some of the obstacles that student athletes may face when trying to offset the stressors of growing up coupled with the obligations of being a student athlete.
Cali Werner, LCSW, shares ways to spot signs and symptoms of mental health challenges in athletes, discusses how we can talk to our kids about mental health, and answers questions about how we can all work toward lessening the pressures student athletes feel from all angles.
- What are your own earliest memories of struggling with anxiety?
- What did your parents think about your early compulsions?
- At what point did your interest in sports merge with your early anxiety, and what did that look like for you?
- Was there a particular turning point where you said to yourself, “I need to get help”?
- Can you help us understand the spectrum of challenges that a student athlete might face while going through high school and college?
- What are some of the more common mental health conditions that student athletes develop?
- Based on your experience, how accessible is mental health care for student athletes in high school and college?
- Is it your sense that high school and college coaches are sufficiently trained to recognize mental health conditions?
- When it comes to addressing the stigma around mental health treatment for college and high school students, are things getting better?
- A number of high-profile athletes are starting to speak out about their challenges with mental health. Is this making a difference?
- As a professional, what do you want us to know about some of the treatment approaches that are used to address anxiety and perfectionism in athletes?
- You talked about how coaches and others around you once accommodated some of your compulsions, which they saw as “quirks.” With the benefit of hindsight, what are your thoughts on that approach?
- What general suggestions do you have for a high school counselor who is working with a student who has been diagnosed with OCD?
- Is there a typical age of onset for OCD?
- Can you share how your personal values have factored into your ability to sit with anxiety and do the hard work of OCD treatment?
- Can mental health care benefit athletes who are not facing a diagnosable mental illness, but are still dealing with anxiety and perfectionism?
- Do athletes tend to have certain qualities that can impact your approach to their treatment?
- Do you have any suggestions for college counseling centers to work with coaches and athletic staff to normalize mental health?
- What do you most want parents of student athletes to know about their children’s mental health considerations?
- When you talk with coaches about the mental health of student athletes, what do you try to pass along?
- How can mental health care providers fine-tune their practices for student athletes?
- What should we know about the issue of student athletes misusing substances?
- When you look back at your own journey with anxiety and athletics, what are some of the lessons that you would apply to non-athletes?
- What would you say are some of the greatest benefits derived from being a student athlete?
- What type of stressors do transgender student athletes face? And how might coaches and other counselors support them?
- When seeking mental health care for a young adult, are there specific questions that you suggest parents ask of a potential therapist?
- Can you speak to the hope afforded through effective treatment for anxiety disorders and other challenges that student athletes might face?
The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.
You may also find this information useful:
- International OCD Foundation (IOCDF)
- Peace of Mind
- Everything You Need To Know About OCD
- Everything You Need To Know About Stress
- Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty – book by Jonathon Grayson, PhD
- Deconstructing Stigma – Cali’s Story
- Anxious Annie – book by Cali Werner
About Cali Werner
Cali Werner, LCSW, is a clinician and researcher with expertise in OCD and related anxiety disorders and their impact on competitive athletes. She is also a highly successful distance runner and mental health advocate. As a Division I athlete at Rice University, Werner won nine conference championships and was named an honorable mention all-American in the 10K.
Werner received her master’s degree in social work with a specialization in OCD from Baylor University. She credits her own OCD diagnosis with leading her to a career of providing evidence-based care. Werner hopes to help others with mental illness find appropriate treatment and know that they are not alone.
It’s important to think about ways to manage your mental health. McLean is committed to providing mental health and self-care resources for all who may need them. You and your family may find these strategies from McLean experts helpful to feel mentally balanced in your everyday lives.
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