Context: Currently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recommends written policies and procedures that outline steps to support student athletes facing a mental health challenge and the referral processes for emergency and non-emergency mental health situations.
Objective: To assess the mental health policies and procedures implemented and athletic trainers' perceived confidence in preventing, recognizing and managing routine and crisis mental health cases across all three divisions of NCAA athletics.
Design: Cross-sectional survey design and chart review.
Setting: Online survey
Participants: Athletic trainers with clinical responsibility at NCAA member institutions (n=1091, 21.5% response rate).
Main Outcome Measure(s): Confidence in screening, preventative patient education, recognizing and referring routine and emergency mental health conditions (5-point Likert scale: 1= not at all confident, 2= hardly confident, 3= somewhat confident, 4= fairly confident, 5=very confident) using a content-validated survey (Cronbach's α=0.904) and mental health policy and procedure chart review.
Results: Respondents indicated they felt “fairly confident” with screening (40.21%, n=76/189) for risk of any mental health condition and “fairly confident” in implementing preventative patient education (42.11%, n=80/190). Respondents were “fairly confident” they could recognize (48.95%, n=93/190) and refer (45.79%, n=87/190) routine mental health conditions. Respondents were “fairly confident” they could recognize (46.84%, n=89/190), but “very confident” (46.32%, n=88/190) they could refer mental health emergencies. Policies lacked separate procedures for specific emergency mental health situations such as suicidal/homicidal ideation (36.1%), sexual assault (33.3%), substance abuse (19.4%), and confusional state (13.9%). Policies lacked prevention measures such as student athlete involvement (16.7%) in annual mental health education (16.7%).
Conclusions: While athletic trainers were generally confident in their ability to address emergency and routine mental health conditions, opportunities exist to improve policies for prevention, screening, and referral. Best practice guidelines should be used as a guide to develop policies that foster an environment of mental health wellness.