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NATA publishes guidelines for addressing high school athletes with psychological concerns

May 8, 2015

The NATA has published an inter-association task force consensus statement, “Recommendations for Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student Athletes with Psychological Concerns at the Secondary School Level.” According to Tim Neal, ATC, chair of the task force that developed the recommendations, the purpose of this statement is to raise awareness and provide education for the high school athletic trainer, coach, administrator, guidance counselor and parent on the prevalence of mental health issues in secondary school athletes.

"We have created a road map on how to better recognize potential mental health issues and develop a referral system to provide the athlete with assistance," Neal said.

More than 7.7 million American high school students play organized school sports each year, according to the news release. Many student athletes define themselves and their identities as athletes, and when that identity is threatened the athlete may face psychological issues, according to Neal. Triggers can include a struggling performance, a chronic career-ending injury, relationship challenges, academic pressure, an eating disorder or bullying or hazing, among other concerns.

According to the statement, the types, severity and percentages of mental illnesses are growing in young adults aged 18-25. Given that mental illnesses are being reported in this age group, they may well start before or during adolescence. Recognizing the overall numbers of student athletes at the high school level, sports medicine professionals and mental health experts are certain to encounter athletes with these issues.

Possible triggers of mental health problems in high school athletes include poor sports performance, career-ending injury, academic pressure, an eating disorder, and bullying or hazing, the statement says.

Along with outlining ways to identify and get counseling or emergency assistance for student athletes with mental health issues, the statement also offers advice about confidentiality and legal issues.

The task force was spearheaded by NATA and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics; American Medical Society for Sports Medicine; American Psychological Association, Division 47: Exercise and Sport Psychology; American School Counselor Association; Association of Applied Sports Psychiatry; and International Critical Incident Stress Foundation.

The consensus statement can be viewed here: