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Sports psychologist on how to support athletes struggling with mental health

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 10:24 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - At least five NCAA athletes have died by suicide since March of 2022, leaving five families grieving and five teams figuring out how to cope. These deaths sparked a bigger discussion surrounding mental health, and the unique struggles that student-athletes face.

Dr. Karen Cogan, a sports psychologist for the United States Olympic Committee and former student-athlete, joined First News at Four to discuss how people can show support to the athletes they know.

According to Cogan, the stigma around talking about mental health has been reduced since her days as a college gymnast.

“You see very high profile athletes talking about mental health concerns and while there is still somewhat of a stigma around it, I think we are having those conversations now and athletes are reaching out for help, so I think we’re making some progress there,” Cogan explained.

However, there are still some athletes who are unsure how to reach out for help. Warning signs that friends and family can look out for are changes in personality or hygiene issues. Listen to what they are saying, some people may subtly--or not so subtly--reveal that they are struggling.

Cogan advises not to rush any athletes to open up about their mental health journey, saying “everyone has their own path to getting to the help they need.”

Some athletes may want to first talk to family and friends and others may prefer to share their story with a trained professional like Cogan.

Although friends and family may be eager to help, Cogan thinks if it’s not a life-threatening issue, “it is important to leave it to the athlete to do it on their own time frame.”

While loved ones shouldn’t force anything, they can always offer encouragement and suggest resources.

“Sometimes it just takes a few tries for someone to get the right kind of professional help,” said Cogan.

If there is a life-threatening issue, it is important to get that person help right away--even if they’re a bit resistant.

For 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress call 800-273-8255 or visit this website.

Watch the full interview in the player above.

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