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Concussions again were front and center Monday at the fifth Youth Sports Safety Summit. But an alarm also went out over mental health issues among youths up to college athletes, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, anger issues and the effects of bullying.
"Consider ... that one of every four or five teenagers and young adults in this country suffer from a mental health issue that can be diagnosed," said Timothy Neal, assistant director of athletics for sports medicine at Syracuse University. "It's my experience ... that there are three to four times more student-athletes receiving or needing care for mental health problems than those" receiving care for concussions annually.
Last month, The Washington Post reported two 17-year-old male students, athletes at Langley High School in Fairfax County (Va.), committed suicide on consecutive days. The Post previously had reported the suicides of two football players at two other Fairfax County high schools in 2009 and 2011.
"We only see that student for a small portion of their day ... that is the fun part," said John Reynolds, administrator of the athletic training program in the Fairfax County school district.
Last year, Neal chaired a National Athletic Trainers' Association task force that developed a plan to recognize and refer college athletes with mental health concerns. Brian Hainline, the NCAA's chief medical officer, said the NCAA is coming out with an e-publication on the same issue.
"The athlete has unique stressors and triggers," said Neal, who said NATA is working on a similar report about high school athletes. "They're away from home, they miss holidays, they miss family events, a lot of them miss their summers. And they're in the spotlight for the most part."
Neal said it's key to destigmatize mental health issues: "There always is a lot of denial on the part of student-athletes."