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Mental health pre-participation screening in NCAA student-athletes: A framework for implementation 

Katelin M. Valster, PhD, CSCS1, Frank Neu, MS, CAT, LAT2, Alicia O’Brien, MS2, Michelle Kellar, MS, LMHC, NCC3

1Department of Kinesiology, Central College, Pella, IA
2Athletics Department, Central College, Pella, IA
3Prairie Wellness, Des Moines, IA


In general, college athletes face unique pressures which reflect the potential for an increased risk for mental health illness, even if symptoms do not intensify to clinical diagnosis. The data available suggests at least 20% of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III surveyed experience significant distress, low energy, and feelings of exhaustion (Paskus & Bell, 2016). Still, insufficient groups of Division III student-athletes, despite comprising the largest representation of all NCAA competition levels, have been recruited for mental health surveys or analysis of their help-seeking behaviors. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss an integrated care plan as suggested by the NCAA Sports Science Institute (SSI) best practice manual, which was developed in 2017, to evaluate mental health symptoms and behaviors in those who screen positive (NCAA SSI 2017; Sudano, Collins, & Miles, 2016). Specifically, the procedures were implemented at an NCAA Division III institution in the rural Plains with constrained resources and the presentation will suggest a successful framework for peer institutions to consider. The athletic department screening and referral process describes an opportunity to confidentially assess all student-athletes mental health status through valid and reliable screening tools, provide direct communication about awareness to personal mental health, and an open connection to resources. This presentation will reflect on the considerations for like institution athletic departments to implement mental health promotion best practice in a low-cost and feasible manner.

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