Approximately 1 in 5 student-athletes experience some type of mental health concern. However, less than half of student-athletes reporting mental health concerns seek mental health treatment (i.e., psychotherapy or medication). Data concerning barriers to student-athletes seeking mental health care are limited, but suggest that stigma is the most frequently reported. Further, the effect of student-athletes and their sport psychologists having shared identities (e.g., race, gender), which may serve as a facilitator of help-seeking, has been minimally explored.
To determine the frequency of internal and external barriers to athletes seeking mental health care as well as examine the importance of athletes and sport psychologists sharing identities as a facilitator of help-seeking.
Participants consisted of 266 student athletes (53.8% women; 42.5% White) from an NCAA Division I University.
Student-athletes responded to nine binary (yes/no) prompts related to internal barriers (e.g., beliefs/attitudes about mental health) and seven reflecting external barriers (i.e., different stakeholders, such as head coach). In examining facilitators of mental health, student-athletes rated how important it was for them to share each of 10 different identities with their sport psychologist from 1 (not at all important) to 5 (extremely important). All identified barriers and facilitators were derived from existing research and compiled for this study.
Significant differences were found in athletes ratings of internal and external barriers For example, a belief in one's own reliance and not having enough time were significant barriers as was their head coach having a negative attitude about mental health. Female student-athletes rated sharing a gender identity with their sport psychologist as significantly more important than did male student-athletes.
Despite efforts by the NCAA to reduce mental health stigma, barriers still exist within collegiate sports that may keep athletes from seeking help.