MANOA (KHON2) — Accusations into the University of Hawaii’s football team and athletic department for ignoring poor player treatment by former head football coach Todd Graham were punctuated by the parents of a former player testifying to the state senate about the lack of help for their son’s mental health issues.
The university is laying out programs to help struggling students and steps to remedy communication hurdles in the future.
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In 2019, UH Athletics Director David Matlin hired a part-time licensed clinical social worker psychologist to work with UH’s student-athletes. UH also added a part-time specialist who was brought in to provide more care in 2021.
“Having that person on staff with the athletes can come to as a therapist and relate to; she’s been fully booked in that they seem to be really taking good advantage of that,” said team physician Dr. Jonathan Sladky.
Student-athletes were also given access to the app “TalkSpace” in 2021, where they can meet with a licensed psychologist on-demand remotely.
“We implemented during the pandemic a service called TalkSpace where the athletes could access psychologists directly on their phones throughout the day at any time that worked best for them. We saw good engagement with that overall, kind of throughout the pandemic up and down engagement,” Dr. Sladky explained.
Busy schedules for practice, workouts, games, as well as academics put pressure on many athletes. Dr. Sladky believes mental health assistance can also boost performance.
However, with busy schedules and finite time, the UH Athletics Department is still looking for ways to best spread messaging to make sure student-athletes know these resources are available.
“One of the things that we added by bringing this person on half time this year is a lot more proactive services. So, she’s meeting with teams as a whole to talk about the different services available to them or talking about issues that are relevant to specific sports, and I think adding in more of the proactive engagement really helps the athletes,” Dr. Sladky continued.
Emails are also sent as a reminder.
Another important tool is educating coaches. There is an emergency management plan that coaches can refer to with basic step-by-step guidance in urgent situations.
“Then the coaches always have resources with athletic trainers, with myself, with our medical staff and with our therapists, as well as has been working with coaches on some of the proactive things,” said Dr. Sladky.
As more research about the links between concussions and mental health issues is completed, UH is trying to keep pace.
“We know from our medical research and our medical literature that mental health issues, depression, go hand-in-hand with concussions and with some of the prolonged symptoms,” Dr. Sladky stated. “So, in our talking in terms of concussion and head injury healthcare, there’s a multidisciplinary team that evaluates our athletes and takes care of our athletes. So, if our athletes have prolonged symptoms or have risk factors that suggest mental health issues, along with a head injury, they are routed to resources to help with the mental health as well as helping with the recovery from the head injury.”
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Students are also given mental health services at Manoa’s Counseling and Student Development Center.