New PNW committee dedicated to student athletes creates prioritizes mental health

A new student-athlete mental health committee is making its mark at PNW.

The committee’s mission is to equip, empower and educate student-athletes on mental health, and break the stigmas associated with it.

“It was a team effort, but the idea stemmed from Katie Pryor who recently worked in Exploratory Advising,” said Natalie Jarret, assistant athletic director for Student Success. “Katie’s background as a DII student-athlete coupled with the relationships she developed over time with our student-athletes, she saw there was a need for it.”

While casual observers often think the biggest threat to athletes comes from physical injuries, the fact is that many experience emotional stress.

“I think mental health is very important for student-athletes especially with being in-season,” said Allison Arnold, vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). “There is so much pressure to perform to the best of their ability, push through illness, stress, injuries and anything else on their plate to perform and be able to practice and play for their sport.”

A junior outfielder on the softball team, Arnold said the result can be mental health issues – which are compounded because players are not comfortable talking about the problems.

“Our mission is to break that stigma and create an environment where our athletes feel safe to talk about mental health,” said Jarret. “Athletes work on so many aspects of themselves to hone their skills as an athlete and often negate their mental health.  Mental health is important and it is important that our athletes are seen and heard.”

She said emotional stability helps in other ways as well.

 “Good mental health correlates to increased productivity, performance and overall better well-being,” she said. “It is often said that 80% of success in life is mental and 20% physical. It is important that we pour into the 80% mental for our student-athletes.”

So far, the committee has taken serious steps in teaching and preparing students for when dealing with a mental health crisis. 

“Something we have all done is … Question, Persuade, Response training,” said Arnold. “This … is specifically to train students to be able to have a conversation with someone in a mental health crisis, know how to respond and assist them. In addition to that, it helps those who are trained know where to refer the person in crisis or get them help.” 

Jarret hopes to expand the effort.

“Next year, we will be providing each committee member with green wristbands to wear,” she said. “Our hope is that others will see them as a safe space and will be comfortable in going to them if they just need someone to talk to.” 

The committee also plans to conduct mental health-based discussion panels, have each team host a game day to raise money for mental health awareness and sponsor an annual de-stress week for the week of finals.

“You’ve seen so many star athletes who have spoken up about mental health,” said Jarret. “Athletes like [Miami Heat player] Kevin Love and [tennis player] Naomi Osaka … have brought a much-needed light to the importance of mental health. We just hope that our committee can help do the same within our PNW community.”

More information and resources about the committee are available on their Instagram (@pridemhc).