Gorlok Athletics Department addresses athlete mental health concerns

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Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

The life of a college student leaves little time for self-care. Between academic demands and social temptation, college students are forced to manage their time in ways that may not include mental or physical rest. Students attend classes, receive hours of homework and many even hold jobs. They are vulnerable to stress that intensifies as college pressures begin mounting.

Collegiate athletes have all of the same academic and social responsibilities as regular students with the massive addition of an athletic regimen. The same stresses induced by the classwork and social demands all college students face can be drastically exacerbated by competitive training.

Student athletes are required to maintain certain grade point averages, participate in strength and conditioning training, attend practice and contribute to fundraising events. Ultimately, these responsibilities can easily overwhelm student athletes and negatively affect their mental health.

The mental health of all Webster students should be considered. However, it is the Webster University Athletics department that can provide mental health resources directly to Webster University’s student athletes. Recent testimony from an anonymous Webster University athlete acknowledges complaints regarding mental health resources and their effectiveness.

“I know a few girls from the soccer and volleyball teams that put on the psychological questionnaire that they were not okay mentally,” the athlete said. “They never heard anything from their coaches, and some of the teams didn’t even get questionnaires [at all].”

The only formal opportunity to express mental health issues within the athletics program is through the NCAA psychological health questionnaire, which Webster does not receive any of the data from. While Webster has developed mental health questionnaires, they only exist because staff members within specific sports programs took it upon themselves to provide mental health outlets to students. This means a majority of Gorlok athletic programs are not presenting mental health resources to their players specifically.

Unfortunately, this has left several current Webster athletes feeling unheard by their athletics department. The new assistant athletic director at Webster, Maureen Burt, has expressed that athlete mental health is a major concern of the athletic administration as they aim to reassure students they are not alone.

“[Athlete mental health is] very relevant. I think it’s the number one health priority. We need to be actively engaged on a medical front and a health services front. Also, [be] more aware and educated, not just as a leadership and as administration and as coaches, but to offer opportunities to our athletes, as well,” Burt said.

This begs the question: what is being done to address these student needs and accommodations? There are resources available on Webster University’s main campus, including the Student Counseling and Life Development Center at 540 Garden Ave.

However, the lack of athlete specific mental health acknowledgment has left student athletes more vulnerable to severe mental health conditions. Burt reinforced mental health resources provided by the Webster University main campus and hinted at new mental health resources for the Gorlok athletics program to be implemented in the spring semester of 2023.

“Right now, it is my understanding that you certainly have the services of the counseling center on campus, and several of them are trained from a sports psychology standpoint. There is that available to not only student athletes, but all students across campus,” Burt said. “We are working on some initiatives for the spring for our student athletes. I can’t disclose what we’re working on because it’s not finalized. Other than the initiatives we are working on, the Webster athletics department doesn’t have other mental health resources at this time.”

The implementation of mental health resource reform and development in the near future is promising for athletes needing mental health outlets. Those who have voiced concerns regarding the lack of mental health resources might have been given an answer. In response to those who feel they have been failed by the athletics department administration, Burt expressed a position of understanding that places an emphasis on student outreach.

“Obviously, we apologize and certainly want to reinforce that there are resources on campus. Maybe [we could] do a better job of making sure that not only all of the coaches are aware [of] what those resources are, but also making them available to the student athletes,” Burt said. “I’d like to reiterate that not just coaches, but other staff members – such as myself and Scott Kilgallon, our athletic director – are here to help if they are experiencing any kind of mental illness.”

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Baird McDaniel
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