Illinois Wesleyan University athletics coaches and administrators want to remove the stigma that mental health issues often have in sports.
Women's lacrosse coach Lindsey Kellar is helping to lead a new mental health initiative to give student- athletes a place to turn when they need help.
Kellar said IWU adopted the NCAA’s initiative to bring more mental health programs and counseling to its student-athletes.
She said given her background as a psychology teacher, she knew she wanted to help.
“Psychology and people, along with athletics, has always been really important to me,” Kellar said. “In my interactions with student-athletes and the struggles that they go through, knowing it’s something that’s very common, regardless of what team you are on, there’s a lot that goes into being a student-athlete.”
Kellar said the campaign was in the works in 2019 before the pandemic, but COVID-19 makes the outreach even more critical.
“Now I can safely say probably 100% of the student- athletes are struggling with that, including coaches, including anyone on campus, anyone in the community,” Kellar said. “All of us have had some feelings of depression because of isolation or feelings of anxiety because of everything that is going on.”
Kellar said the campaign includes educating coaches on what to look for, and to help them to understand that their challenges are not a reflection on their desire to compete.
“Someone who struggles with mental health (problems) can still be mentally tough and still learn mental toughness strategies on the field,” she said. “I think that’s probably where there’s an unclear line of people of knowing what that difference is.”
Kellar said a so-called care team of coaches, administrators and trainers will be available for student- athletes to reach out to anonymously for assistance. She said the team can refer them to seek treatment with counseling services on campus or elsewhere.
Kellar said the athletic department wants to give student-athletes more options for help in case they don’t feel comfortable talking with their own coach about personal matters, but she emphasized an “overwhelming majority” of IWU student athletes have said they want this help.
The athletic department committee plans to offer activities and resources for student-athletes, including guest speakers and webinars on mental wellness.
Every other Monday, the IWU athletic department will promote mental health practices on social media in what it has called Mental Health Monday. It includes practicing gratitude and other ways to improve your mood, sleep and self-esteem.
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