USports Mental Health Best Practices (2019)

Purpose: The purpose of this position statement is to provide Canadian university and college athletics and sport medicine departments with recommendations and guidelines for supporting and promoting student athlete mental health.


Mental health and wellness of student-athletes is an important aspect of their overall health and academic and athletic performance. Mental illness rates are higher among young adults and athletes are no exception to this. Demands including academic, financial, family and interpersonal are all intensified during young adulthood. Mental health problems may present or increase during this critical time. In one study of competitive collegiate student-athletes, the prevalence of depression was foundto be 21% (Yang J, Peek-Asa C, Corlette JD, et al. Prevalence of and risk factors associated with symptoms of depression in competitive collegiate student-athletes. Clin J Sport Med 2007;17:481–7). Mental health issues can include diagnosable disorders such as depression, anxiety and ADHD but can also include situational crisis and difficulty coping with the stressors of life, school and sport.

Student-athletes are a unique group of young adults that are faced with all the challenges that other students face with the added pressures of the demands placed on them as an athlete, a role model and a representative of their school, their community and their sport. Student-athletes are faced with many factors that affect their mental health and wellness and there is often a culture in athletics that prevents them from seeking help. Student-athletes must cope with all the same challenges of students their age with the added stress associated with the expectations of their sport, injuries and identity as an athlete and the barriers to reaching out in the sporting community. Mental wellness has a direct relation to physical health with increased rates of injury among those who experience certain mental health conditions (Wiese-Bjornstal DM. Psychology and socioculture affect injury risk, response, and recovery
in high-intensity athletes: A consensus statement. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20:103–11).

Athletic Departments can play a key role in creating environments that support mental wellness by ensuring that post-secondary institutions are promoting mental health, removing the stigma associated with having and seeking assistance for mental health issues, providing resources and opportunities for student-athletes to seek mental health care, identifying student-athletes at risk and facilitating access to licensed and experienced mental health care practitioners. An integrated multi-disciplinary approach to mental wellness should bring together Athletic departments, coaching staff, sport medicine staff, campus health and counseling services, disability services, off campus resources, such as sport psychiatry and psychology, and the student-athletes. Identifying available resources and developing collaborations can maximize the supports available for student-athlete mental health.

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