Student-athletes have better safety net to deal with mental health issues

by Angie Baldelomar

Building strong relationships with student-athletes is essential for fighting the stigma surrounding mental health in sports, said Dr. Sheriece Sadberry, sports psychologist at the University of Kansas. Mental health stigma is far greater in sports than in any other field.

“As an athlete, you’re expected to play through the pain,” she said, explaining the reason for a greater stigma in the athletic world. “The question when you say, ‘I’m hurt coach, I’m hurt,’ is ‘are you hurt?’ or ‘are you injured?’ because if you’re just hurting, you gotta keep playing.”

This pressure to perform adds to everything else student-athletes already are dealing with. Since being an athlete is part of their identities, she said, they feel they are not good enough when not playing. This leads students to ignore their issues in order to keep playing instead of addressing them.

“For the longest time in athletics having a mental problem was considered a weakness,” Sadberry said. “You’re not strong enough, you’re not good enough.”

The shift in accepting the presence of mental health issues in sports has also been benefitted by professional athletes coming out and confessing their own battles with mental health, such as Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, former Cowboy running back Joseph Randle, and former Washington Mystics Chamique Holdsclaw.

At the collegiate level, the NCAA released in January a set of guidelines on how to deal with mental health of college athletes. The organization has also released a book, “Mind, Body, and Sport: Understanding and Supporting Student-Athlete Mental Wellness,” that further deals with the topic of mental health.

Kansas Athletics, KU’s department of athletics, has a way to start de-stigmatizing mental health and help-seeking among its athletes.

“It’s about de-stigmatizing the person,” Sadberry said. “You’re part of the team, and that helps to start de-stigmatizing mental health.”

One of the ways sports psychologists working with student-athletes do that, as Sadberry said, is by spending time with the students beyond medical help. They have lunch together, go to practices, go to games, and later on, she said, students would not have a problem reaching out to them to talk about their problems.

“Our coaching staff has been amazing at having a good relationship with them,” she said.

Karen Loudon, Watkins Health Center physical therapist, said that the relationship between athletic trainers and staff with student-athletes is essential for detecting mental health problems.

“Over at the athletic department here, they have athletic trainers that interact with students, the athletes, and they know them,” she said. “They have a better relationship, a longer-term one, and that can help because they know what that person is like and they might be able to figure out if they are depressed or not.”

Associate Director of the Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, Pamela J. Botts said that CAPS provide services to student-athletes, as it does to any student.

“They are a special group because of the nature of the world they live in,” she said. “Sometimes, it is hard because they have a demanding schedule, and it is hard to fit into that with our services.”

Botts said that this is one of the reasons the athletics department would often refer students to outside sources.

“It’s a challenge to schedule things for them sometimes, and sometimes someone outside the university has a lot more flexibility to do that,” she said.

Some of the other reasons, she said, is if there is something CAPS cannot do, or does not offer enough support for. Botts also said their services are limited due to staffing and specialization issues.

However, according to Sadberry, the student-athlete lifestyle has one advantage over the regular student population.

“The beauty of the athletic world is that you’re not alone,” she said. “The general student population can feel isolated because nobody is looking out for them.”

For athletes, this is a completely different reality.

“The one benefit that they do have is that they have to be somewhere,” she said. “They have more eyes on them, more hands on them who would notice. We have a better safety net by being a part of that team and having that rigid schedule.”

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Overtraining or depression?

Listen here to Dr. Sadberry explaining how overtraining and depression mirror each other, and what she does to avoid misdiagnosis.

Mental Health at KU in numbers

ku-mental-healthQuick overview of the state of mental health in the student population at KU.

Infographic: Angie Baldelomar. Source: NCHA Spring 2015 Report – University of Kansas.
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KU Psychological Clinic has a two-month waitlist despite not many people knowing about it

by Angie Baldelomar

The University’s Psychological Clinic struggles to meet the demand of students looking for mental health services, in spite of not many people knowing about it.

Sarah Kirk, director of the clinic, said that its waitlist is around two months, even though many do not know about the clinic.

“We’re a training clinic for graduate Ph.D. students,” she said. “We have the mission to train students and provide a service, so we provide a low-cost service not only to students here at KU, but anybody else, any community member.”

The clinic, located in the third floor of Fraser Hall, offers different fee accommodations, causing a great number of students to prefer it, Kirk said.

“Our first fee for students is $12,” she said. “But because we do a sliding scale, we would slide the fee down if they can’t afford it.”

The therapists working at the clinic are graduate students, which means they are not available eight hours a day to see clients. Because the clinic can see a very limited number of people, Kirk also avoids advertising the clinic.

Recent discussions of lack of diversity and inclusion in the University have triggered mental health talks in the KU community. The University Daily Kansan published an article a few weeks ago addressing how the University struggles to meet student demand for mental health services, especially for students with severe mental illness. The University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, charges $15 per session, and has a waitlist of at least two weeks.

Kirk said another challenge in mental health access on campus is the lack of diversity in providers.

This lack of diversity in counselors is also part of one of the 15 demands from the Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk group. Their demand # 9 states: “Establish team of multicultural counselors to specifically address severe mental illnesses and the needs of students of color by fall 2016.” This situation has led Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to say her office is working towards the accomplishment of this demand in a recent article in the Daily Kansan.

Mental illness such as anxiety and depression affects college students in universities nationwide.

Dr. Ruth Ann Atchley, director of the University’s department of psychology, said mental health issues affect college students because the human brain is not fully formed until about 22 to 23 years of age in women, and 23 to 25 in men. What’s more, the last brain structures to form are the ones that help control emotions, or avoid acting on impulse.

“We’re talking about a person who is very vulnerable based on their environmental situation, at the same time as all the brain structures that would be there to help you address haven’t fully wired, aren’t fully developed,” she said.

For senior Annette Jardon, mental illness has been a constant part of her life since she was a child.

“My mother has depression, and my little sister has depression and anxiety,” she said. “I grew up not knowing a whole lot about it. I could tell when things were wrong with my mom. I thought it was weird, but I didn’t know what was going on until I was quite a bit older.”

When she was studying abroad in Japan, Jardon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but it was only for a short period.

Although she has no personal experience with using the services the University offers, she has heard about her friends’ experiences.

“While the service here is cheaper than going to a professional outside the university, it is still not cheap for students, and that can be really hard,” Jardon said.

For Kirk, the unchanging system is another factor that may have led colleges to be unable to meet the demand for mental health services.

“We have this system that was once created to deal with fairly minor, less often occurring mental health issues,” she said. “We have a higher level of severity of mental illness, and greater mental illness, but the system hasn’t evolved or changed enough to meet the demand.”

Colleges across the country are reconsidering their policies and approaches to mental health, she said.

Kirk also suggests a possible solution to meet the demand for mental health services.

“There are other options,” she said. “If they are not going to provide the service or cannot, then maybe there’s the ability from people from the outside to come in and provide the service, but at least students will have an on-campus location.”

Jardon said that misconception and misinformation influence the way people view and address mental health. These misconceptions, she said, sometimes prevent people from realizing what is going on with themselves.

Jardon did not know about the Psychological Clinic until this semester – her senior year – when one of her professors, who is also a Ph.D. student in psychology, told her about his shifts at the clinic.

“I have to wonder if there is a way they could advertise it more to the groups that needed it,” she said. “More like a focus advertising.”

The summer that changed Lester Withers’ life

by Angie Baldelomar

Manhattan, Kansas. The summer after senior year. Lester Withers and his mother visit one of his four brothers at his church, where revival meetings are taking place. At the end of the sermon, the church’s acting pastor tells them to put their heads down, and asks three questions. His final question is: “if you’re not sure if you’re saved, raise your hand.” This sparks something in Withers. He raises his hand, but when the pastor asks those few to meet with him, he does not go.

However, to his surprise, the pastor went after him once he finished with the others. The pastor had seen Withers raising his hand, and decided to approach him. They talked. Withers confessed his fears and doubts.

“He said the one thing that would have really helped me the most in growing [spiritually]: to read the Bible,” Withers said. “But I didn’t know it at the time. I have a very literary mind and learn a lot from reading.”

This was a turning point in his life, he said.

The rest of the summer between high school and college, Withers spent most of his days with a Bible in his hands.

Freshman year arrived. Originally, Withers wanted to pursue a pharmacy degree. During that first semester, he got involved with the local affiliation of Cru, an evangelical Christian organization. His spiritual growth began: He went to Bible studies, listened to speakers. But most importantly, he said, he found people willing to invest in his spiritual growth. They became his mentors.

Over winter break his freshman year, Withers participated in the Denver Christmas Conference, a five-day regional Cru conference. During those five days, he decided he would do vocational ministry after college because he wanted to share his beliefs with others. However, he was aware of the potential hindrance student loans posed in pursuing this path.

“If I went to six years of college, I would have that much more debt,” he said. “So I decided to switch to a four-year degree.”

Although at first he did not know what to study, he realized the subject he enjoyed the most – and excelled in – was English. He switched his pharmacy degree for an English degree. He also recognized an important factor in his vocational ministry plan.

“When I’m talking to people of different faiths, I want to have background knowledge of what they believe, so I can better engage in conversation with them about our respective beliefs,” he said.

This idea ultimately led him to go for a dual degree in English and religious studies.

Withers grew up in a Christian family in Sublette, a small town in rural southwest Kansas. He is the youngest of five sons, and he said his brothers prepped him for the transitions in his life such as high school and university, so it would not be much of a shock.

When he was a kid, Withers dressed in boots, a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat. His dream was to become a cowboy. Although the plaid shirts and the boots remain part of his normal attire, he realized his path was somewhere else.

Withers is now a junior at the University of Kansas, and runs a blog where he expresses his thoughts and ideas in the way that he knows best: through writing.

“It is a medium by which to show God to people, whether that’s in a story or stated directly in a text,” he said. “In my fiction and poetry, I try to demonstrate God to people who otherwise wouldn’t care about it. They might read the story because it’s fiction and fun to read, and then learn about him.”

He also works as a resident assistant in Ellsworth Hall. This is his second year in the job. He said he enjoys listening to people. One of the things he does on – the almost non-existent – free time he has is usually spent in one-on-one time with his residents, his friends, or co-workers. Puja Shah, one of his co-workers, said Withers has been known to take his residents for coffee to chat with them. She also said his ability to care about others is one of the reasons why she enjoys talking to him.

“Every conversation that he has, he is very attentive to the conversation; he actually listens to the person talk,” said Shah. “He is a genuinely nice person, and cares about everything and everyone a lot.”

Withers’ best friend, Dylan Wachter, is also an RA in Ellsworth. Withers and Wachter met in the car that was taking them to their first Bible study during their freshman year. They were living in the same building – Ellsworth. Eventually, they spent more time together, and became friends. When describing Withers, Wachter simply said:

“He is one of the most giving people that I have ever met.”

Kris Kobach addresses voter registration laws issues during KU symposium

by Angie Baldelomar

Kansas voter registration laws aim to reduce election fraud risk to a minimum and encourage people to vote, Secretary of State Kris Kobach said during the keynote discussion of a symposium Thursday night.

Kobach had announced that state officers would now be in charge of prosecuting voting fraud cases, as a part of his anti-fraud actions.

“No state in America has the power to stop you from double-voting before it happens,” he said at the “Protecting the Vote: Dialogue on Citizenship, Elections, and the Franchise” symposium. “There is no live update of who’s voted and at what time. But we can detect it after it occurs.”

When asked about the criticism these laws have received, Kobach said that it is only now that the voter registration process laws issue has become partisan. When laws were enacted in 2011, they passed both chambers with support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Regarding the proof of citizenship requirement to register to vote, Kobach defended his views on citizenship, and the importance of this requisite for voting registration.

“Citizenship is a privilege,” he said. “Voting is the highest, most important right and duty we have as citizens, and I think it’s appropriate to reserve that to people who have become full citizens.”

The audience members gathered in The Commons showed their disagreement with Kobach’s ideas. Several times during the question-and-answer session, especially every time someone asked about controversial points in the voting laws, the audience erupted in applause for the people asking.

Referring to the arguments Kobach made to defend his voting laws, Lawrence resident and audience member Stuart Hale said, “I am not buying it, and I don’t think a lot of people are buying it.”

Likewise, Louise Porth-Louts, another audience member, disagreed with Kobach’s policies and ideas.

“By watching him and listening to him talk, he reminds me of people who see black and white so clearly that they cannot even acknowledge that there is gray,” she said. “His answers were very slick. He can’t see the gray.”