The University of Utah is aiming to treat mental health issues the same as physical injuries, and the school hopes its Pac12 conference members will follow suit.

At its recent U Giving Day — a 36-hour fundraising push that engages students, alumni, faculty and staff — Utah administrators chose to focus on issues of mental health, aiming to increase staffing and services for student-athletes to deal with what has become a pervasive problem on campuses across the country.

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan told The Salt Lake Tribune that the line between physical hurt and mental or emotional hurt is slowly disappearing. 

“We’re treating that like a broken bone now, plain and simple,” he said. “That’s our approach. Our coaches know it, our staff knows it, out student-athletes know it. There is no need to be fearful, to hold back on what you’re thinking. Let us help.”

The Tribune notes that nearly half of women’s athletes and a third of men’s athletes reported “overwhelming anxiety,” according to National College Health Assessment Data. Pac-12 $1.1 million annually for on-campus mental health efforts, while extending a $3.6 million program to research other health-related projects. 

Harlan says the effort is real and finally seeing results. Coaches are being taught to “look for signs that maybe before they weren't necessarily trained to see,” Harlan said. “I think that's where we've seen a lot of growth.”

Utah Volleyball head coach Beth Launiere agreed. “The landscape of collegiate athletics has changed drastically in terms of mental health, understanding the need for [services].,” she said. “We’ve always asked a lot of these athletes. They’ve always been under a lot of stress. … We recognize that we have to up our support now." 

Harlan said he credits his predecessor for adding Jonathan Ravarino to the athletic department as the director of psychology and wellness.

“Our athletes are very resilient, but they also go through periods of significant stress. Leaving home … all the stresses of college,” Ravarino said in a U Giving Day message to donors. “On top of that, they have the performances concerns and the expectation to do well and to win. … We help them with anxiety, depression, sleep concerns, relationship concerns; just feeling more confident on the field and off the field.”

Andy Berg is Executive Editor of Athletic Business.