Context

Collegiate student-athletes (SAs) experience psychological stressors due to rigid schedules, team conflict, and injury. These factors can result in symptoms of mental health conditions, decreased daily functioning, and suicidality.

Objective

To explore NCAA Division 1 SAs experiences with mental health, access to and experience with mental health resources at their university.

Design

Consensual qualitative research.

Setting

One-on-one interview.

Patient or Other Participants

23 NCAA Division 1 SAs (18 females, 5 males; mean age=20+2 years).

Main Outcome Measures

The participants completed a semi-structured interview that focused on their experiences with mental health. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim via Zoom. Credibility and trustworthiness were established via member checking, triangulation, and peer discussion among a 3-person coding team.

Results

Two domains: “increased expectations” and “resources and management” were identified. The participants shared balancing life as a college student, academic stressors, performance expectations, and a sport-first mindset they perceived from coaches and support staff. The participants discussed their experience with internal support network of coaches, the athletic department, and sport psychology. Participants remarked on their external support network, which included their family, friends, and psychology services. The resources available at their institutions and the accessibility were perceived both positively and negatively. Collegiate SAs described resources to be helpful, whereas other participants described a lack of timeliness for appointments, lack of advertisement, incomprehension of counselors to athlete demands, and no sport-specific counseling as barriers.

Conclusion

Collegiate SAs expressed mental health concerns due to stress and demands of sports participation. Self-regulated coping strategies and support networks continue to be powerful and helpful resources to one's mental health with or without a diagnosed condition. Barriers to mental health service utilization was it not being sport-specific or accessible. Institutions need to focus on creating athlete-centered mental health resources with annual advertisements to increase utilization.

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