Breaking the Stigma

Penguins Foundation, UPMC team up to address mental health challenges student athletes face

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh educators are learning more about the resources needed to address mental health in student-athletes.

Nearly 70 people representing local schools recently attended a symposium by UPMC and the Pittsburgh Penguins titled “Mental Health and Student-Athletes: Signs, Interventions, and Resources.”

Woodland Hills Athletic Director Ty Brown was one of the people who attended.

He said they’ve made a big effort to train and encourage their coaches to have the tough conversations.

“Whenever they take a break from the physical aspect of the sport and, you know, talk about the social aspect and talk about mental health, talk about what’s going on at home, talk about relationships,” he said.

For a long time, that intervention between the lines of competition was lacking.

“A lot of time our coaches are, their first instinct is to push harder, get more out of the kids,” Brown said. “A lot of times they’re not thinking about, is this kid being lazy or is he having a mental breakdown?”

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine highlighted the increasing need for mental health intervention for student-athletes.

The study showed suicide rates among NCAA athletes doubled between 2002 and 2022.

It’s now the second leading cause of death among U.S. college athletes.

Dr. Ken Nash, Chief of Clinical Services at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital feels effective intervention goes hand-in-hand with breaking the stigma around asking for help.

“The barriers were much more in the older generation,” Nash said. “I think the younger generation is much more receptive to it.”

Educators like Brown know part of the job is breaking the remaining barriers in their own communities.

“This isn’t our first stop with mental health,” Brown said. “It’s something that we need to continue to focus on, something I’ll continue to work on.”

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW