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Association of
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SAP and the Student Athlete

Friday, March 31, 2017 7:36 PM | Terry Kerr (Administrator)

Athletics and Mental Health Physical activity is known to not only improve physical health but mental health as well.  Studies show that the release of endorphins during exercise interact with receptors in the brain that reduce the perception of pain and that they trigger positive feelings in the body. However, this doesn’t mean that student athletes are without mental health struggles.  In fact, quite the contrary when one considers the pressures many of them face in order to compete. “Given the interrelationship between the physical and mental, it might be helpful to think of student-athletes with mental health problems as “injured” — just as you would of a student-athlete who has a physical or medical problem.” (WebMD)       

Student athletes can suffer from many different mental health or substance abuse issues.  Student athletes can be at risk because pressures to succeed can trigger mental health problems. 
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has published a handbook entitled, Managing Student-Athlete Mental Health Issues. This tool helps those who work with student athletes be able to identify general signs and symptoms that may indicate a possible mental health concerns.  The handbook contains explanations about the effects on performance and sport participation, a suicide prevention plan and recommendations for individuals at risk.  Coaches should be involved in and trained to identify mental health problems in students.  SAP teams can be proactive in suggesting that their schools provide training for all coaching staff.  
Substance Abuse and Student Athletes Student athletes are under great pressure to excel on their sport(s) and in school.  It is important for coaching staff as well as school staff to be educated on observable behaviors associated with possible drug and alcohol use and abuse.  This may be especially important if student athletes have had an injury or operation.  Student with injuries are vulnerable to misuse of prescribed medications.  
According to a study published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse reveals high school athletes are one of the groups most at risk for getting hooked on pain pills (U.S. News and World Report).  The study indicates that teen athletes are more likely to use drugs than their peers.  Teen male athletes are more likely to use and abuse drugs than female athletes.  Also, football players reported more drug and alcohol use than other sports.  Since pain medication can cause euphoria and give the user a temporary escape from stress, teen athletes are particularly susceptible to abuses.  The teenage brain is in a critical stage of development and can make them particularly vulnerable.
According to an article from the NCAA by Kolodney (2015) the increase in opioid prescribing has been associated with parallel increases in opioid addiction and overdose deaths.  For more information on these statistics click here.    
SAP Teams should be vigilant to the possibility of a student athlete’s vulnerabilities following injuries and in case of possible head injury make sure appropriate referrals to medical consultations are made.  SAP Teams should make a referral to their local BrainSTEPS program, which provides guidance to schools on how to best assist student with issues following a head injury.   
SAP Teams need to take special care in looking at the multiple strengths and vulnerabilities associated with student athletes.  Teams may need to branch out to even greater collaborations and referrals, including strong partnerships with their school’s athletic department, coaches, and medical professionals.
Citations: https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/2007_managing_mental_health_0.pdf http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1 http://brainconnection.brainhq.com/2000/06/03/brain-injuries-high-school-athletes-at-risk/ http://www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety/sport-science-institute/cautious-opioid-prescribing-college-athletes http://www.lockthecabinet.com/news/high-school-athletes-and-prescription-painkiller-misuse/ http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2014/08/04/abuse-of-prescription-painkillers-on-the-rise-amonghigh-school-athletes-survey 

Pennsylvania Association of Student Assistance Professionals
PO Box 1254
State College, Pennsylvania 16804 

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