Office of the President

At this time of year on campuses across the country, student-athletes and teams are preparing for competitions they’ve long dreamed about — all while balancing classes and other pressures of campus life. While we all get caught up in the excitement of the big game or race, final exam or celebration, we too often forget to ask our students one simple question: “How are you doing?”

When I have the chance to talk with students, I like to ask what’s on their minds. Every time, without exception, they raise the issues of stress, time demands and coping. Unfortunately, I am not surprised. Stressors in society are at an all-time high. Recent Gallup data show 8 in 10 Americans frequently or sometimes feel stress in their daily lives. In our most recent NCAA Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students in College survey, nearly a third of student-athletes report feeling “intractably overwhelmed” within the previous month. With all the demands of classes, practice and competition schedules, it can be easy to overlook the fundamental focus of our work in higher education: students’ mental and physical well-being.

Regrettably, asking for help on mental health issues historically has carried a stigma. But that reality is changing, and our students are emerging as leaders in helping society confront its qualms in addressing mental health. In a perfect world, mental health would be as easy to access, talk about and treat as an ankle sprain. But we have work to do to get to that ideal state.

Our student-athletes are already comfortable in this conversation. Many current and former college athletes have come forward to talk publicly about their own mental health challenges and the need for further support. Their courage and willingness to share and, in some cases, advocate not only for their personal well-being, but for the well-being of their fellow student-athletes, is essential. Like other health issues in our society, improving how we talk about and address mental health requires action from all of us.

The NCAA Student-Athlete Engagement Committee, a new Association-wide committee composed of student-athletes from all three divisions, decided recently to focus its efforts on issues surrounding mental health. Their advocacy and leadership demonstrate that student-athletes are driving this conversation as they continue to hear from students across all divisions who are looking for more mental health treatment options and resources.

Meanwhile, the NCAA Sport Science Institute has worked with the college sports community, including student-athletes and mental health professionals in and outside of sports, to make strides in mental health best practices and resources available to our member schools. In particular, the NCAA Mental Health Task Force has produced such resources as “Mind, Body, and Sport” and a comprehensive mental health checklist, which provides guidance for athletics departments to make mental health screening a priority. Created with input from leading experts, these materials equip each campus athletics health care administrator with helpful tools to educate their staff about the importance of mental health. Their work continues as the task force updates its materials to make more resources available to campuses later this year.

We can improve athletics department culture and campus culture by destigmatizing mental health issues and, quite simply, by checking in on one another more often. Our students have shown us they are committed to doing just that. Let’s follow their lead.

Mark Emmert
NCAA President