NCAA Best Practices: Managing Student Athlete Mental Health Issues

Developed by: Ron A. Thompson, PhD, FAED Roberta Trattner Sherman, PhD, FAED Bloomington Center for Counseling and Human Development Bloomington, Indiana


When you think of a student-athlete’s health, you probably are inclined to think primarily of the person’s physical/medical condition and what effect the injury will have on athletic performance. A student-athlete’s “mental health” might be viewed as secondary to physical health; however, it is every bit as important. It makes little sense to try to separate the “mind” and “body.” One affects the other. Medical problems often have psychological or emotional consequences. Psychological problems (e.g., eating disorders, substance-related problems, etc.) typically have medical consequences. Student athletes who suffer from depression after an injury illustrate the relationship between “physical” and “mental” health. At the same time, some depressed student-athletes are at increased risk of injury. Given the inter-relationship between the physical and mental, it might be helpful to think of student athletes with mental health problems as “injured” — just as you would of a student athlete who has a physical or medical problem. As with physical injuries, mental health problems may, by their severity, affect athletic performance and limit or even preclude training and competition until successfully managed and treated. This handbook’s primary purpose is to provide information that you can use to effectively and quickly identify student-athletes who are at risk or are experiencing emotional symptoms. Like most medical problems, early identification of mental health problems usually means less disruption to a student-athlete’s life, fewer severe health complications and a less complicated, quicker recovery.

Chapter Breakdown:

  • Chapter 1: Mood Disorders – Depression; Suicide Intervention
  • Chapter 2: Anxiety Disorders – Panic Attacks; Stress; General Anxiety; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Chapter 3: Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating
  • Chapter 4: Substance-Related Disorders
  • Chapter 5: Management and Treatment Issues
  • Resources
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