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Student-Athletes and Mental Health

This past week, I had a second meeting with senior Keara Reilly, a psychology major who swims everything from the 200 to the 1650 freestyle for the LMU swim team. In spring 2018, Reilly came by the LMU Magazine office to let us know that mental health issues for student-athletes was an important subject that needed more attention, and that she had started working on it. She wanted to know what LMU Magazine was going to do about it, too, and I hope that this blog will be a first step in that direction.

Reilly now is in her second year as president of the LMU Student-Athlete Advisory Board, which consists of athletes from each Division 1 sport. Among other concerns, SAAC represents LMU athletes on matters related to the overall student-athlete experience on campus rules, regulations and policies that affect athletes and addresses issues affecting the welfare of student-athletes.

During the summer months, Reilly spearheaded the production of SAAC’s video “Hear Us Roar,” which counters the stigma that envelopes mental health issues and that makes it difficult — even frightening — for those who struggle with mental health issues to bring the subject into the open. The video features Lion athletes from many sports, as well as Athletic Director Craig Pintens, speaking to the concern.

Earlier this year, two NBA players helped turn some light on mental health issues. In February, DeMar DeRozan, then an all-star guard for the Toronto Raptors and now a San Antonio Spur, tweeted about his depression and went on to speak about it. (DeRozan, by the way, is no novice when it comes to shedding light on illnesses and disease. He’s an advocate for people who suffer from lupus, his mother being among them.) A month later, Kevin Love, all-star forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers and former UCLA stand-out, wrote an essay about a panic attack he’d experienced during a game a few months earlier that was so strong that it drove him off the court and into the team’s locker room.

In May 2018, a direct connection, you might say, was established between the mental health issues involving NBA players and the increasing concern about mental health in LMU athletes. William Parham, professor in the counseling program of the School of Education and interim associate dean of the faculty, was named the first director of mental health and wellness by the National Basketball Players Association. He quickly began working on a plan to develop a network of licensed mental health professionals in cities with NBA franchises, a 24-hour hotline and an educational campaign. He also has been a strong supporter of Reilly’s work on the LMU campus.

Pintens spoke briefly to LMU Magazine about his commitment to the mental health of Lion athletes soon after his appointment as athletic director this past July. And he made a promise when he appeared in the video that Reilly and SAAC produced, saying to LMU athletes, “We committed to you the day you committed to us.” I think it’s fair to expect more to come, given the commitment of Reilly, her fellow athletes, concerned faculty and staff, a supportive AD, and a university that explicitly proclaims in its mission statement a commitment to “the whole person.”

Learn more about an initiative by student athletes at Oregon State University here. A story about a program at the University of Michigan is here. Information from the NCAA about mental health and student athletes is here.