The entire University of Mississippi football, women's basketball and women's golf coaching staffs recently became certified in Mental Health First Aid, with the goal that all Ole Miss coaches will be certified by the end of the year.
“The culture starts with them," Ole Miss assistant athletics director for sport psychology Josie Nicholson said, as reported by Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. "When your coach believes that your mental health is important, it’s more likely that the athlete is going to believe and take care of their mental health, because it decreases — wildly decreases — the stigma of reaching out for help and getting mental health support.”
Even non-coaches on the football staff — including analysts, equipment managers, etc. — are nearing completion of the required course, which is an eight-hour class taught by Nicholson that also requires a two-hour pre-work assignment
“They believe in it. [Head football coach] Lane [Kiffin] is very committed to the overall wellness of the athlete and cares, but also recognizes that he is not somebody that is trained to address mental health issues,” Nicholson told the Daily Journal. “He is going to do what he can, for him and his staff, to have the best possible resources for our athletes.”
As reported by Michael Katz of the Daily Journal, Ole Miss received a grant that gave mental health first-aid instruction to a number of people on campus, including Nicholson. After receiving the training, Nicholson sought to get as many people on-campus certified as possible.
The purpose, Nicholson said, is not for coaches to diagnose and treat mental health disorders, but rather be able to see potential mental health issues emerging and to create an action plan for the student-athlete to access the resources they need in what she calls a “supportive environment” for student-athletes.
“I think sometimes there can be a fear like, ‘What if my coach finds out, and they think there’s something wrong with me?' Or I display a weakness which, we know, is not a weakness, but it can feel like that in athletics sometimes?’” Nicholson said. “So, knowing that the coach has this training — and part of the training is, how do you create a culture that supports mental health? — then they will say, 'OK, well, my coach thinks it’s OK, so I’m going to take advantage of the resources that we have.' ”