Survey: ADs Struggling to Address Athlete Mental Health


A joint survey conducted by Mantra Health and The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) revealed college athletic directors are currently lacking the appropriate training and services needed to address the student-athlete mental health crisis effectively. An overwhelming majority (92 percent) of athletic staff reported they don't have but want psychiatric services available in their athletic programs to support students, and 44 percent rated their college's mental health resources as "average."

The 2022 Mantra Health and NAIA Student-Athlete Mental Health Survey had over 50 NAIA members (including 39 athletic directors) participate during May 2022. While many athletic departments recognize the need for more mental health resources, services, and support, there is no clear direction for developing or implementing them effectively. This survey identifies the resources college athletic departments need most and how they can build and deploy mental health best practices.

Major findings from the survey include:

  • According to respondents, the top 3 factors impacting student-athletes' mental health are: balancing academic and athletic responsibilities (92 percent), interpersonal relationships (82 percent) and financial security (77 percent).
  • The No. 1 resource (90 percent) athletic departments wish they had is mental health training for coaches and directors.
  • 70 percent of athletic departments wish they had a sports psychologist or therapist in their athletic program.
  • 48 percent of athletic department staff reported academic success as their top priority regarding student mental health, while 44% reported student retention as their primary concern.

"With all the stressors that come with juggling school work, social life, and a demanding athletics career, it is important that our institutions are able to protect and prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of our student-athletes," said NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr in a press release. "We want to thoroughly understand the services and resources that can help our student-athletes, and the findings of this survey are a great step in giving us this insight."

"In addition to the normal stressors of college life, student-athletes face a lot of pressure to perform in sports and academics, all while balancing interpersonal relationships and personal responsibilities," said Dr. Liz Jodoin, Mantra Health Clinical Solutions consultant. "We've also seen that student-athletes are less likely to seek help than non-athletes since many have been conditioned to play through physical, emotional, and psychological pain. As a result, this has contributed, in part, to higher rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and in many cases, has exacerbated pre-existing mental health conditions."

Maintaining a strong, collaborative team of high-performing athletes is a top priority for coaches and athletic directors, even in solo sports. When one or two teammates cannot perform due to a physical injury, it can significantly impact the team as a whole – and the same is true for a mental health issue. However, the difference is that mental health conditions are invisible, making them easier to hide, and harder to identify, diagnose, and treat.

"Elite athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have recently stepped forward to share their personal experiences with mental health issues," said Ed Gaussen, co-founder and CEO of Mantra Health. "While this is spreading awareness for student-athlete mental health, the larger initiative Mantra and NAIA are trying to tackle is to change the culture in athletics. Our goal is to help athletic departments build robust mental health practices, which will take time, research and collaboration. This will also have the greatest chance of addressing student-athletes' specific needs and improving their mental health in the long-term."

In addition to the survey, today Mantra released Taking a Team Approach to Mental Health, a best practices guide for collegiate athletic departments. In this guide, athletics directors and mental health professionals address the barriers preventing student-athletes from accessing quality mental health care and offer recommendations for transforming athletic departments to support student-athlete mental wellness better.

  • To download the 2022 Mantra Health and NAIA Student-Athlete Mental Health Survey click here.
  • To download Taking a Team Approach to Mental Health click here.
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