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Student-Athletes’ pandemic mental health perspective - Part Two

The pandemic is impacting student-athletes mental health and some steps are being taken to help.
Student-Athletes’ pandemic mental health perspective - Part Two
Student-Athletes’ pandemic mental health perspective - Part Two
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 8:28 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - We continue our series on student-athlete mental health during the pandemic tonight with part two. We look at the serious issue at hand and some of the supportive steps being taken.

“The only thing I have right now outside of school is my one-hour basketball section 4 days a week,” says Orono senior Jason Desisto, “I think a lot of kids are struggling right now just because of the season.”

Checking on peers is now more important than ever. But it is hard to do as a teenager.

“I have never had a heart to heart with my buddies and been like are you OK,” says Desisto, “Which we should probably be doing more of that.”

“Some girls did come to me and ask me for that help,” says Brewer senior cheerleader Abby Sargent, “and I was very thankful and proud to be that person to do that.”

It’s equally important for parents and coaches to really check in on their athletes.

“Whether it’s on a regular individual basis, or schedule once every week or every couple weeks, we’re just checking in,” says Sports Psychologist Christine Selby, “How are you doing? No really, how are you doing?”

Orono head coach Ed Kohtala knows first hand how important it can be.

“It was with the loss of my brother who took his life coming up on six years ago now,” says Orono head boys basketball coach Ed Kohtala, “We are a basketball family, and we were in the middle of March madness, and I asked him if you’ve been watching the games? And he said what games?”

“When they see a dramatic change, whether it’s in a personality shift, or they’re not sleeping like they used to, or they are eating differently, things like that can be an indication that there’s struggling and they need some assistance,” says Dr. Selby.

No matter what age you are it can be hard to talk to someone struggling in your life.

“Those closest to us, when you sense that something may be wrong and equally frightening since grows within yourself,” says Kohtala, “Almost a natural reaction to say no, no it can’t be that. He’s going to be OK, he’s going to be OK and he wasn’t OK.”

Local athletic directors, teachers, and coaches are working to do their part right now.

“There has been more openness, there have been more resources,” says Kohtala, “Part of that unfortunately because of losses we continue to experience.”

“Was teaching and I immediately turned my focus to mental health,” says Orono athletic director and health teacher Mike Archer, “Because I worry. I worry for our kids in our state right now. That that option may be out there.”

Local athletic directors have been having virtual meetings to help each other through this.

“I have concerns on my end for adult mental health,” says Brewer athletic director David Utterback, “We’ve been at this for nine or 10 months now. Our whole fixed mindset and approach we’ve had for so long just got turned upside down.”

And Orono came up with a way for the kids to be able to meet with a more open floor.

“Put together a leadership council,” says Kohtala, “One of the things that we try to monitor and encourage in those conversations is how are you guys doing? Is there somebody Coach needs to check on?”

“If other teams implemented that,” says Desisto, “I think it’s super nice for us to have a connection to the teammates that wouldn’t necessarily be friends outside of the court, where we can sort of communicate.”

As important as communication is for local teams while they compete, it seems more important now to take a minute and communicate outside the lines.

“We are going to be OK, this is going to be OK,” says Dr. Selby, “It’s confusing and it changes every day which is frustrating beyond belief but it will get better.”

I hope kids, and adults alike, know you aren’t alone in this challenge.

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