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The Role of the FAR in Supporting Student-Athlete Mental Health and Wellness

FARs are uniquely positioned to help develop a caring and supportive campus environment that fosters student-athlete mental health and wellness. Participants at the 2015 Division II FAR Advanced Leadership Institute developed best practices to contribute to an informed and engaged campus that provides a safe and supporting environment for all student-athletes. See the full report here.

The Issue

Among the myriad challenges facing student-athletes today, the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committees in all three divisions say that mental health and wellness is by far their primary concern.

Mental health issues are a priority for multiple departments on campuses. However, because faculty athletics representatives function as a bridge between the academic and athletics sectors on campus, FARs are uniquely positioned to help shepherd a process that provides a safe and supporting environment for all student-athletes.

Be a Champion

As FARs advocate for student-athletes in all aspects of their collegiate experience, it makes sense for FARs to also champion their mental health and well-being.

FARs interact with student-athletes regularly in the classroom, during advising and office hours, and even while observing them in competition. As such, FARs may notice changes in their student-athletes’ academic performance, attendance, mood or attitude, or other forms of behavior.

Also, as FARs are in an advocacy position, student-athletes may seek them as a sounding board or shoulder to lean on to discuss issues that affect their mental health and well-being. Prepare to be there for them if that occurs!

How FARs Can Help

It is not incumbent upon the FAR to serve as a counselor or psychology professional, nor is the FAR expected to have training or expertise when it comes to the continuum between mental illness and mental health.

However, FARs can take the following actions to be as informed as possible regarding student-athlete mental health issues.

  • First, be up to speed on the issues. Participate in training on campus relative to recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. Some institutions offer QPR (Question Persuade Refer) for suicide prevention training to students. Other campuses (or even larger communities) offer programs like Mental Health First Aid, where the goal is to teach “lay people” some of the basics about mental health. The programs are typically brief (1.5-2 hours) and set a comfortable tone for discussing these concerns.  
  • Second, serve as a conduit to the current and potential resources on campus. FARs can help influence the culture on campus by recognizing stakeholders who may need more education and training regarding the mental health services that are available to the student-athletes they serve.

Reach Out To Campus Constituents

FARs can help educate the campus community on mental health and wellness issues, providing access to best practices, and coordinating the creation of a more informed and engaged campus community.

Here are some suggestions for collaborating with various campus constituents:

The Faculty Assembly or Faculty Senate. The importance of mental health to academic success is well documented, but the differences for student-athletes and their specific injuries and concerns can be misunderstood. The FAR should:

  • Partner with mental health professionals on campus to provide practical information for early recognition of possible mental health issues.
  • Apprise faculty with respect to the educational and emotional needs of student-athletes in and out of the classroom, particularly with respect to mental health and sport injuries.
  • Mental health problems can affect academic performance; thus, it is imperative for FARs and faculty at large to be engaged in mental health awareness programs and in creating an environment that encourages discussion and support.

Counseling/Athletic Training/Medical Services. The FAR should be informed about the coordination and integration of the activities and resources related to medical care of student-athletes:

  • Discuss and/or encourage the creation of a uniform protocol for responding, treating and supporting student-athletes and their specific concerns.
  • Help mental health professionals educate the broader campus community about identifying and managing student-athlete mental health issues.

Student-Athletes and the SAAC. The FAR should work with the campus SAAC to:

  • Facilitate sending information and resources to athletes and teams.
  • Encourage SAAC to more actively empower student-athletes to care for themselves and their peers.
  • Create an environment in which student-athletes in distress are more likely to seek help.
  • Special attention should be given to informing and educating freshman student-athletes about the new situations they may experience as college athletes, on ways to manage their personal health, and on available support systems.

Coaches/Athletics Department. The FAR should:

  • Help coordinate information transfer to coaches and staff within the athletics department, ideally by arranging service training from medical and medical health experts on campus.
  • Help raise awareness among coaches concerning misunderstood mental health problems student-athletes may face.
  • Assess the existing culture of the teams and the athletics department as a whole to actively develop and maintain a positive athletics environment.
  • Work to promote an enhanced culture of inclusion, safety and sportsmanship.

For more resources, visit www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety/sport-science-institute.