The Athletics Department and Harvard University Health Services' Counseling and Mental Health Services have collaborated to launch a program for student athletes that primarily focuses on mental health screening, education, and care through workshops for students and coaches.
The new initiative, dubbed the "Crimson Mind and Body Performance Program," debuted at the beginning of last semester in response to survey data collected over the previous few athletic seasons. The program provides mental health services specifically tailored to College students on varsity sports teams.
Two licensed clinical social workers spend half of their time working with student-athletes and coaches through the program, according to Brant Berkstresser, the associate director of athletics for student-athlete health and performance. Their main responsibilities include meeting with student athletes individually and holding workshops for them, as well as coaches.
In the past, some student-athletes turned to their coaches for support, but the new system promises to streamline resources and give athletes easier access to mental health professionals, according to Women's Soccer Head Coach Chris Hamblin.
“The coaches aren't licensed clinicians...we deal with a lot of different situations and then trying to support us to athletes as best we can,” he said. “We don't have the tool kit to be able to really be able to navigate some of these challenging struggles that students face.”
Some students said they think the program is necessary because of the stigma that some athletes face in seeking mental health support.
“There’s a lot of access available but I think there’s a lot of negative stigma surrounding mental health and I think it’s kind of looked upon as a weakness,” Meghan C. Tveit ’20, a women’s soccer player, said.
Darryl Lemus, one of the licensed clinical social workers who works with the new program, said he thinks some athletes might not feel comfortable admitting that they need mental health counseling.
“I think a persona about image that most people have of what a student athlete is like this tough, thick-skinned person and nothing really bothers them,” he said.
Plans to launch the Crimson Mind and Body program started in the spring of 2018, when members of the Student Athlete Advisory Council raised the idea with Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise during meeting, according to council co-president Claire C. Rushin ’19.
Berkstresser, who collaborated with council members to shape the program’s logistics during summer 2018, said a series of surveys given to student-athletes in the years before 2018 had made clear that it would be helpful to increase athlete-specific mental health programming.
The student workshops offered through the program are discussion-based, and student-athletes help choose their programming, according to College spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman wrote. Recent topics have included concerns about eating and nutrition, according to Lemus and Melissa Nauman, another licensed clinical social worker who staffs the program.
Though most of their time is spent with students, Nauman and Lemus said they believe their interactions with coaches are valuable too.
“The coaches and the trainers have...played huge roles in helping to connect the student athletes to services, which I think is really like a special thing that's come from this,” Nauman said.
The social workers and some athletes and coaches said that, while the program is still evolving, it has increased conversation about student-athletes’ mental health and educated coaches about how to support their players.
“Communication and education has been great and we just didn't have that before,” Jennifer Weiss, head coach of the women’s volleyball team, said.
One of the most helpful elements of the program is the meetings that Nauman and Lemus held with each team at the beginning of the school year, Rushin said.
“That was one way that it became a resource that everyone knew,” she said.
Though the program has made progress, there is still more work to be done because some athletes still do not feel comfortable asking for support, Rushin said.
“Until we can start to break down the barriers that keeps getting athletes from seeking out help, we haven't done our job,” she added.
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