Holy Cross Athletics Hosts Mental Health And The Division I Student-Athlete Panel
By Kate Griffin
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Mental health awareness is an important topic that is under-addressed in the world of collegiate athletics. On Thursday, March 23, Holy Cross student-athletes gathered in the Hogan Ballroom to listen to a panel on the importance of the mental health of student-athletes, as part of the athletic department’s Be Well Series.
Armani Dawkins, the assistant director of athletics/student-athlete development, coordinates the Be Well Series. “The importance of the Be Well Series for our student-athletes is to lay a foundation and create space to educate and discuss topics that are often stigmatized amongst the student-athlete community,” explained Dawkins.
Mental health was the topic chosen for this semester’s series. “As our student-athletes have continued to find their voice, they're becoming more aware of all that it entails to perform at the highest level, which certainly includes practicing self-care as it relates to their mental health and wellness,” said Dawkins. “This process and realization has led them to ask questions, and seek information about mental health. Within our athletic department, we will always encourage our student-athletes to get involved and be active about topics they feel are directly affecting them, which is the basis on which the topic of mental health was chosen.”
Holy Cross Visiting Assistant Professor Gary Senecal of the Psychology Department moderated the panel. The panel included three experienced professionals in psychology: Dr. Patrick Whitehead, Dr. Judy L. Van Raalte and Dr. Susan Sotir. The panel also included a second-year doctoral student who will be joining the college in the fall, Jacob Schlierf, and two former Holy Cross student-athletes, Chris Morgan, a former member of the men’s basketball team (Class of 2016), and Hannah Grace Stokes, a former member of the volleyball team (Class of 2015).
The panel covered topics including motivational climate, career transition in athletes, the hard balance between academics, athletics and maintaining a social life, the role of social media in athletics today and eating disorders in athletes. There was a large turnout from the student-athletes on campus and the panel received very positive feedback.
One of the topics covered by the panel was career transition. When a student-athlete has competed in their sport for the majority of their life, it can be difficult to transition into a full-time career that is unrelated to athletics. “The skills that student-athletes bring to the career process are skills that they have developed for years in their sports,” said Dr. Van Raalte. “Trying to translate those into the workplace takes a little bit of bravery and action in the career area. One thing I was struck by here at Holy Cross was the number of student-athletes who had used the career center. That is remarkable. Keep doing what you are doing, it seems to be working.”
The two members of the panel who were former student-athletes at Holy Cross gave their perspective on post-grad life, the career transition and the importance of conversations about mental health among student-athletes on campus. Morgan discussed his struggles of being injured during his athletic career at Holy Cross. He explained that being injured took a toll on his mental health and he was frustrated when he was not able to play the sport he loved. His advice to student-athletes struggling with an injury was to take time recovering. There is no rush to push your body to something it is not ready for. He included that staying busy helps keep the mind off of the injury and helps the student-athlete focus on recovering.
“You are faced with high intensity in the classroom and high intensity in athletics,” explained Morgan. “It is so important to take time to care for yourself as a student-athlete. The intensity really prepares you for your work place. We came in with a really strong base that Holy Cross gave us to be successful in our own special ways post-graduation.”
Stokes explained that mental health issues are not usually discussed if student-athletes are not psychology majors. She enjoyed participating in this talk because all student-athletes are exposed to these issues and can continue the conversation with their teammates.
“I was so lucky to come back to share my experience as a student-athlete and take part in an important discussion,” said Stokes. “Volleyball is very interdependent. I want to move into a nursing profession, which is very integrated. You have to be attentive and team oriented. I have transitioned those skills into my career path.”
Student-athletes responded well to the topic of mental health awareness. “The Be Well Series is a really worthwhile addition to athletics at Holy Cross,” said Amanda McClure, a sophomore on the women’s rowing team. “I felt that the panel touched on topics and concerns about the mental side of athletics in a way I hadn't heard before. I think these talks about mental health will help bond us closer together as peers and acknowledge the fact that we are all feeling and experiencing similar struggles as Division I student-athletes.”
“It was amazing to see such a great turnout for the event,” said freshman Will Brophy of the men’s hockey team. “I found the panel overall was a really effective way to ignite discussions about mental health with student-athletes. A lot of time student-athletes under high stress feel alone and that no one else is experiencing similar problems. It is evident from the turnout that Holy Cross student-athletes are ready and want to talk more to end certain stigmas associated with mental health.”
Senecal was pleased with the outcome of the event. “I think it was a huge success,” said Senecal. “A lot of student-athletes have already come to me with positive feedback. For me the point of the event was this: if we can have education and discourse on the front end, we can avoid harsh intervention on the backend. If we can get really intelligent people to talk about what they know in these topics with the panel, and offer that information to student-athletes, the student-athletes can now have a dialogue.”
Mental health awareness and conversation is becoming more and more present on campuses today. The Be Well Series took the initiative to spark conversations that student-athletes will take to improve their academics, athletic performance and overall well-being.
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