Addressing Psychiatric Disorders among Student-Athletes

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  • Title: Addressing Psychiatric Disorders among Student-Athletes: Challenges Facing Mental Health Professionals in NCAA Division I Athletics
  • Author(s): Erick Schlimmer, Jessica W. Chin
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Sport & Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Sport and Society
  • Keywords: Mental Disorder, NCAA, Student-Athletes, Psychological Professionals
  • Volume: 10
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2152-7857 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2152-7865 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Schlimmer, Erick Norman, and Jessica W. Chin. 2018. "Addressing Psychiatric Disorders among Student-Athletes: Challenges Facing Mental Health Professionals in NCAA Division I Athletics." The International Journal of Sport and Society 10 (1): 49-66. doi:10.18848/2152-7857/CGP/v10i01/49-66.
  • Extent: 18 pages


The purpose of this study was to examine the clinical challenges of mental health professionals working with National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I (NCAA DI) student-athletes. Students competing in DI athletics have complex life circumstances that present stressors and psychopathological symptomology unique to athletes who, unlike the general student body, are immersed in both advanced academics and high-level athletics. As the onset of certain psychological disorders can occur during this stressful time, it may be difficult for mental health professionals to recognize and diagnose student-athletes’ clinical conditions. Data was collected through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with six mental health professionals, focusing on their experience working with NCAA DI student-athletes. The results indicate that, while it is not essential that licensed mental health professionals have a sport background to effectively work with student-athletes, background knowledge in sport is useful for building rapport in a treatment setting and can assist in appropriately prescribing mental skills training while increasing awareness of sport-influenced symptoms and conditions that need to be taken into consideration in order to make the most accurate diagnoses. Also, clinicians identified the reluctance for athletes to accept personal mental disorder as a significant challenge to providing appropriate care and treatment to athletes. Further, the competitive nature of elite college athletics and the desire to display mental and physical toughness in this culture is a deterrent toward treatment for some athletes. Practitioners and academic researchers can consider these findings while continuing to study, create, and implement mental health treatment protocols in DI athletic programs.