Abstract: A Descriptive Look at the Mental Health Literacy of Student-Athletes (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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A Descriptive Look at the Mental Health Literacy of Student-Athletes

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Lauren Beasley, LMSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Steven Hoffman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Background and Purpose: Recently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has called for universities to address the mental health of their student-athletes (SAs), which has led to more licensed social workers being hired in athletic departments. To do effective clinical work, an understanding of the protective and risk factors of the SA population is necessary. There is copious research identifying common mental disorders (i.e. depression, anxiety, and eating disorders) in the SA population. However, there is limited research on the mental health literacy (MHL) of SAs, even though MHL is key to fully conceptualize mental health disparities and prevention in vulnerable populations. Thus, the purpose of this study was to explore the MHL of NCAA SAs.

Methods: Data were collected using convenience sampling with the assistance of Qualtrics survey software. MHL of SAs (N = 205) and non-athlete college students (N = 205) was assessed using the Mental Health Knowledge Schedule (MAKS), Level-of-Contact Report (LCR), and the Attitudes to Mental Illness Questionnaire (AMIQ). Three linear regression models were used to determine if athlete status predicted MHL, contact/exposure with mental health (LCR), and/or mental health stigma (AMIQ), while controlling for gender, age, ethnicity, college GPA, ever being diagnosed with a mental health illness, and SES.

Results: Both athletes and non-student athletes had high levels of mental health literacy and stigma, and low levels of mental health exposure. SAs did not differ statistically from non-athlete college students on the MAKS, the LCR, or the AMIQ in the three regression models. Having ever had a mental health diagnosis was statistically significant, with coefficients suggesting that those who had been diagnosed with a mental illness had higher levels of MHL (b = .96, p < .01), more exposure to mental health (b = 1.56, p < .001), and had lower mental health stigma (b = 1.04, p < .05). The LCR model showed that White participants had less exposure to mental illness (b = -0.81, p < .05), and the AMIQ model showed significant gender differences, with males having higher levels of mental health stigma than females (b = -0.86, p < .05).

Conclusions and Implications: Overall, the results of this study are promising in that college students and SAs have above average MHL. This knowledge could be valuable if used to work towards reducing mental health stigma and increasing everyday contact with mental health on college campuses. Pragmatically, social workers in athletic departments can implement mental health education that extends beyond foundational mental health information by including interactive and critical MHL skills. For example, SAs could be leaders of university-wide anti-stigma campaigns, and SAs with mental health diagnoses could share their personal stories to increase their teammates’ and classmates’ contact with mental health. Considering future research, an MHL scale specific to the SA population that takes into consideration their unique stressors and life situation on campus should be developed to assess their MHL.