College athletes increasingly open about mental health

mental health
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Discussing mental health and how to cope with various stressors is becoming more common among college athletes across the country, says Bob Harmison, director of sport psychology and Kibler professor of sport psychology at James Madison University.

Harmison, who will begin a term as president-elect of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology in October and whose resume includes stints with three U.S. Olympic snowboarding teams, the Kansas City Royals minor league organization and four Division I universities, said the mental toughness athletes strive for in competition goes hand in hand with how they care for their mental health away from competition.

“You may be mentally tough on the field, but if you’re not managing your well-being away from the field, then I think at some point that’s going to catch up to you,” Harmison said.

At Division I JMU, athletes face plenty of demands.

“The reality is, athletes have to make sacrifices because they don’t have enough time in the day to be a full-time athlete, a full-time student and then a full-time person,” Harmison said. “One of the characteristics of a mentally tough athlete is an athlete who is able to balance all the demands being placed upon them.”

Opportunities for JMU athletes to discuss mental health have been increasing for several years, Harmison said, including the start of a program called, “Dukes, Let’s Talk.” Established by a JMU athletic trainer, the program is designed for student athletes to come together to talk about mental health.

The topic has also become less taboo since elite athletes such as U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, professional tennis player Naomi Osaka and NBA star Kevin Love have opened up about their struggles.

“I think the national conversation has certainly been more open, certainly within athletics and sports, to talk about mental health, to relate it to physical health and to destigmatize it to some extent,” Harmison said.

Following a year as president-elect of AASP, Harmison will be president for a year and then serve another year as immediate past president.

“It’s an honor. I’m humbled by it,” he said.


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