By Lindsey Linard
With a $50,000 grant from the Horizon League, the Youngstown State University Athletic Department is adding resources for student-athletes to address mental health and wellness.
According to Jen Tymkew, associate athletic director and director of Athletic Training Services, the Athletic Department used the money to create wellness opportunities for athletes, and it has more plans for the future.
“We’ve got some more programming and education coming down the pipeline, both for our student-athletes and our coaches and staff,” Tymkew said. “We want our coaches and staff to feel just as comfortable with all this information as [student-athletes] do as well.”
Nicole Kent-Strollo, dean of students and ombudsperson, said student-athletes have more variables beyond what typical students encounter that can impact their mental health, such as increased pressure and responsibility, injuries, performance anxiety and the effects of the pandemic.
“You want to be seen as tough, you want to be seen as resilient, you want to be seen as someone who can handle the pressure, but maybe you need a little more help in order to do that,” Kent-Strollo said.
In addition to the resources all YSU students are offered, such as access to counseling and Penguin of Concern referrals, the Athletic Department recently added yoga sessions twice a week that are open to all student-athletes.
It also has educational opportunities to inform students of their resources through team meetings and Remind text messages and support groups for those dealing with injuries.
Athletics has also added a new position to work with those seeking help for mental health issues.
Meredith Grimes, a graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, was brought on as a student-athlete wellness graduate assistant intern last year and works with student-athletes daily.
“I truly believe that student-athletes are an underserved population with mental health,” Grimes said. “It’s very eye opening to me how many kids are affected by the stigma and still are afraid to fight it or embrace it.”
Each team also has an individual athletic trainer that is able to help students who may be struggling. The athletic training staff spends a lot of time with their respective teams and are able to address changes in behavior or personality, Tymkew said.
“We can also be that eye to go ‘Hey, you seem to be struggling a bit lately,’ or ‘You just don’t seem like yourself, is there something I can help with?’” Tymkew said.
Kent-Strollo also explained that in addition to Grimes’ position and athletic trainers, the NCAA is requiring all Division I schools to add a staff psychologist for student-athletes in the next year and a half. But even with these new staff additions, she said she believes YSU still has many places where it can improve how it serves students and student-athletes.
“We need more counselors, we need more mental health professionals on our campus,” Kent-Strollo said. “We definitely need more resources. We are very understaffed in that area, and that’s something we are continually working on.”