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Young Athletes Not as Likely to Ask for Help

Athletes are much less likely to speak up when they are having suicidal thoughts. (Kevin Patrick Allen)
Athletes are much less likely to speak up when they are having suicidal thoughts. (Kevin Patrick Allen)
July 25, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Student-athletes experience mental-health issues at about the same rate as their peers: 30 percent. About a third of the general student population will get help, but only 10 percent of their athlete counterparts will.

Health providers at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City are trying to find a way to identify those who are at risk. The Sports Medicine Department started administering suicide screenings for teenage patients, according to Dr Shayla Sullivant, child and adolescence psychiatrist at the hospital. She said you can't look at a young person and assume that because they're fit and active, they aren’t dealing with issues that could lead them down a troubling path.

"This is not typical in the sports medicine world,” Sullivan said. "It's a very common thing to focus on your ACL injury or your ankle injury, but I think that our providers have a very clear understanding that you have to treat the whole person."

Several organizations are taking steps to address athlete suicides, including the NCAA, the National Athletes Trainers Association (NATA) and universities, with programs such as "Athletes Connected."

Sullivant said there can be an attitude in sports that you need to stay tough, and that helps a person push through some difficulties. But, she said, it also can be a problem.

"Sometimes that can become confused for the student athlete, because what we really need for them to do is come forward and ask for help if they're struggling with the conditions that lead to suicide,” Sullivan said. "So if they're struggling with depression, we need to know that in advance and do some early intervention so we help them get on a good path."

Knowing that a young person is struggling is the first step, Sullivant said. And the priority needs to be getting patients professional help.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR