WORCESTER, Mass. — As a college sophomore and division three NCAA basketball player, Michael O'Brien has plenty of things to juggle. That's why this 20-year-old student and his teammates at Clark University have started focusing on their mental health in addition to sharpening their skills on the court.
"Basketball asks a lot of you all at once. I feel like that translates into life. You’re not asked to do one thing and one thing itself," O'Brien said while standing in the middle of his college's campus recently.
Many of the young men on his team are now meeting regularly to talk about some of the stresses they're dealing with.
"Asking for help isn’t something you should be embarrassed about," he added.
Almost half of all college students reported having a psychiatric episode in the last year. And a staggering 73% of students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college. One-third of all college students report having felt so depressed during school they had trouble functioning at school.
Dr. Nadia Ward oversees the Mosakowski Institute at Clark University and has helped the men's basketball team here navigate their new focus on athletes' mental well-being. The institute's goal is to help young people and adolescents develop social and emotional skills.
"You see more young people anxious, more young people depressed," Dr. Ward said.
As part of that push to help young people manage some of the mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic, this university is developing a new app. It allows students to take a quick assessment quiz and then offer tools for ways to help. Dr. Nadia Ward says there is a particular concern for young Black men.
"They are the least likely to indicate they need help and most likely to be dealing with anxiety and depression and behavioral health concerns," she added.
Back on the court, Michael O'Brien is getting ready for next season. Focusing on becoming a better athlete both inside and outside of the gym.
"You know you’re not alone when there are people next to you feeling the same way and you’re talking about your emotions," he said.