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Mental health resources for student-athletes

Kentucky and Cincinnati swimmers dive into the pool during the meet against the University of Cincinnati on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, at the Lancaster Aquatic Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Kentucky Kernel Staff

Being a student-athlete is no easy feat. Balancing each sport with a college education comes with its ups and downs, and for members of the University of Kentucky’s Swimming and Diving Team this is no different.

Several athletes remark that the time commitment and management as well as other responsibilities make it easy to spiral out of control quickly. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed is par for the course.

University of Kentucky student-athletes have access to various mental health resources on campus. In addition to resources like the Counseling Center and the Behavioral Health Center, there are organizations like Dam Worth It and The Hidden Opponent that work to raise awareness about mental health and show support for student-athletes.

Dam Worth It, a non-profit corporation, has had a branch at the University of Kentucky since 2021. The non-profit also has branches at Oregon State University, San Jose State University and Valparaiso University.

“The mission statement of Dam Worth It is to end the stigma at college universities about mental health and spread the awareness about it,” sophomore diver Sam Duncan said.

Similarly, The Hidden Opponent works as a non-profit to amplify the voices of student-athletes and bring light to the mental health issues they may face, according to their website.

“The Hidden Opponent is really just all about trying to educate student-athletes about their options and really just show our support for athletes dealing with mental illness. The main goal is to educate, to advocate, and to support the spread of more resources for college student-athletes and their mental health,” sophomore freestyle swimmer Kaelan Daly said.

Both organizations host monthly activities, such as stress ball workshops and movie nights. They also meet once a month on Zoom to brainstorm planning for how to better spread awareness about mental health.

Daly shared that the Swimming and Diving Team has implemented some mental health and mindfulness practices they've picked up on.

“We as a team have a gratitude box that sits in our locker room and throughout the week we are encouraged to write down something positive that happened. Maybe it’s that you got a good grade on an exam or that you’re excited about an upcoming meet, or even just that the weather is nice," Daly said. "I think it really helps our team to put things into perspective because even if you’re having a bad day there’s something good that happened too."

Additionally, all teams on campus have access to a sports psychiatrist and several sports psychologists that help with anxiety and performance at a collegiate level.

Connor Gavigan, the sports psychologist for the Swimming and Diving Team, explained that he loves being able to help people overcome different obstacles in athletics.

“We essentially work on different mental skills training. It’s really just to perform better and [get] better control of your mind when your performing and have that be an asset rather than a detriment,” Gavigan said.

Teams on campus also have access to 15 full-time athletic trainers that can help direct a struggling student-athlete to another resource more specific to their needs. UK Swimming and Diving and Women's Golf athletic trainer Amy Barchek said that students come to her when they're struggling with their mental health or need someone to talk to. Barchek said she is able to redirect student-athletes to several other resources that are not as well known, like the recently added TRACS (Triage, Referral, Assistance and Crisis Support) hub.

Members of UK's Swimming and Diving Team say that although they were unaware of such resources before, they would be open to giving them a try.

“I think it would be something that I would maybe look into more if I had the chance,” freshman freestyle swimmer Mac Russell said.


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