To establish a resource for student-athletes with mental conditions, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor – home of the world-famous Wolverine Division I football program – was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The football program at the University of Michigan has produced some of the National Football League’s most storied players, such as Dan Dierdorf, Ron Kramer, Bennie Oosterbaan and Tom Brady. However, Michigan, like every university in the U.S., is the site of hundreds of thousands of mental health crises every year.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 30 percent of all college students experience symptoms of depression so severe that they interrupt their daily lives. Student-athletes may face unique stressors during training and competition that puts them at increased risk of mental conditions, and a study conducted by researchers at the Taylor & Francis Group and published in the Journal of Sport Sciences found that among 122 British athletes, 17 percent expressed symptoms of psychiatric disorders. The researchers postulated that the strict standards and intense competition in sports may contribute to these stresses.
To combat the growing trend of mental health issues, the NCAA awarded the University of Michigan and five other schools grants to investigate better treatments for student-athletes. Michigan will start their investigation with a pilot program to increase awareness of conditions, reduce stigmas associated with seeking care and promote self-sufficient coping mechanisms for student-athletes.
“Sometimes it is a bit more difficult for student-athletes to seek help because of the norms around sports of being tough and resilient, finding one’s own way through problems,” Daniel Eisenberg, associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and Depression Center, said in a statement. “All of those norms can work against seeking help, so student-athletes might be more vulnerable to significant mental health problems.”
Eisenberg explained that he plans on creating a series of videos featuring Will Heininger, a former Wolverine from 2007 to 2011 who has struggled with depression. Heininger will help walk other student-athletes through sample scenarios and effective resolution strategies, as well as tips and tricks to avoid problematic situations in the future.
“When you have healthy student-athletes who have perspective and understanding of life, you have increased performance,” Heininger said in a statement. “It is truly a win-win.”
Eisenberg, Heininger and the rest of the University of Michigan team will present the results of their project to the NCAA in January 2015.