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Boise State: the importance of mental health care for student-athletes

The NCAA says its goal is to create a culture where seeking help for mental health issues is as normal as seeking care for physical injuries. (Courtesy: Boise State Athletics)

Pressures on the court, getting gains in the weight room, maintaining academic eligibility, and managing stress from home. Welcome to the life of a student-athlete.

"The stressors that are applied to our student athletes vary whether they're in season or out of season. Sometimes you'll see them build as the season goes and then it comes to the surface after the seasons done and all that pressure is pushed on the weight side," said Marc Paul, Associate Athletic Director, Sports Medicine

Those stressor’s can manifest into a variety of issues. From decreased performance, anxiety, depression or even eating disorders. At Boise State, athletic trainers are the first line of defense.

"As an athletic trainer, we're with these athletes every single day. Including when sometimes the coaches aren't even allowed to be with them. So we get to know each other on a very personal basis," said Paul.

The NCAA says its goal is to create a culture where seeking help for mental health issues is as normal as seeking care for physical injuries.

"It's an evaluation just like an injury. It's kind of a little different in that mental health still has a stigma attached to it and some people are more than willing to share things, others really don't want to talk at all," said Paul.

But it's not just trainers that are working on mental health. Breaking the stigma is a campus-wide effort.

"When a student athlete comes to us the first thing is, we determine kind of where they need go. Similar to a medical condition. Is it something that is general medical, orthopedics, you know we want to make sure we get them to the right specialist," said Paul.

While other schools have different strategies. Marc says he's seeing mental health become a bigger focus nationwide.

"The age group that we work with in the college setting is becoming a bigger and bigger issue as well. I think you're seeing mental health services across campus' not just in athletics expanding as you go around and look at them," said Paul.

And over the years... Marc says Boise State has been making more mental health referrals for its athletes, making mental health the primary concern.

"We just try to keep it consistent for us across all of our student athletes. To make sure all of our kids are getting the care they need," said Paul.

With recent tragedies in the sports world related to mental health, trainers believe it is important to establish a relationship with athletes to help evaluate the issues at hand.

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