Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Recognizing and Referring Athletes with Psychological Concerns

Most weeks when writing this blog I usually focus on providing you information on how to recognize signs and symptoms of potentially dangerous injuries and illnesses.  I’ve also advocated for having emergency action plans in place and an athletic trainer on site at all times.  When thinking sport safety I think we can all get a little caught up in the physical injury and illness side of things, but this week is a reminder that we need to be on the lookout for signs of mental health concerns as well.

Back in September the National Athletic Trainers’ Association published an executive summary for a coming inter-association taskforce position statement titled, “Inter-Association Recommendations for Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student-Athletes with Psychological Concerns at the Collegiate Level.”  The primary goal of the statement is to help colleges develop an evidence-based action plan for recognizing, referring and managing student-athletes who may be suffering from mental illness.    According to statistics published in the statement 1 in 4-5 youths meet the criteria for a mental health disorder and experience a severe level of impairment across a lifetime.  Based on a 2012 study, 45.9 million adults 18 years or older experienced mental illness during 2010.  Of those 46 million, the 18 – 25 year olds comprised 29.9% of the total group experiencing mental illness.  Mental health issues are a growing concern, but especially in the 18-25 year old age group. 

Athletic trainers are taught to recognize and refer athletes who they believe may be suffering from mental health issues, however overall care for the athlete must be a team effort.  Colleges need to have an action plan for how mental health issues will be addressed and it should involve the team physician, athletic trainer, and university and community counseling services.  If you have a child in college and playing sports do you know what the action plan is should they need care regarding a mental health issue?    Did their pre-participation physical examination questionnaire include questions about their mental health history?  Do you what types of physical conditions can predispose someone to mental health issues? 

The executive summary provided by the NATA provides some of the basic answers to the questions I have posed and the full position statement will be published for public viewing shortly.  I recommend that you take a look at the statement and do the work to become aware of the resources available to your college-aged children (whether they’re athletes or not).  It’s always better to be prepared and know what to do before mental health referral is needed than to scramble for answers once you realize there is a concern.  As always, be prepared and plan ahead for the best results.

Moving forward, based on feedback from readers I am happy to discuss/review specific mental health concerns.  To suggest a topic you would like me to blog about you can send an email to Heather Clemons or tweet me @AlfredSB10.

Submitted by Heather L. Clemons, MS, MBA, ATC

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