PSAC partners for student-athlete mental health

Rebecca Dunphy, News editor

With  the  Pennsylvania  State  Athletic  Conference  (PSAC)  fall  season  being  suspended,  student  athletes  are  being  faced  with  the  unique challenge of coping with the stress and mental  health  issues  that  can  come  as  result  of  losing  an  experience  that  is  so  valued.  For  many,  participation  in  sports  is  much  more  than a hobby, but rather a way to escape from the anxiety, tension and pressure of college life.

To help students navigate this difficult time, the  PSAC  has  announced  a  partnership  with  “Beautifully Simply You,” a mental health pro-gram designed by mental health advocate and former Division II athlete Ivy Watts.

“I  started  Beautifully  Simply  You  to  be  completely  vulnerable  and  transparent  in  the  telling  of  my  story  of  my  struggle  with  anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and how I  have  grown  to  love  myself  in  order  to  help  others tell their own story,” said Watts. “After finally being able to get help through therapy, and finally see that seeking help was not a sign of weakness, I wanted to help others to feel less alone in their struggle. I never want someone to  feel  like  they  have  to  hide  behind  a  smile,  like I did for so many years.”

Now that Watts is Mental Health First Aid Certified,  she  uses  her  knowledge  and  first-hand  experience  to  inform  students  and  administrators  about  mental  wellness  practices.  Her  message  of  empowerment  has  reached  more  than  8,000  students  and  3,000  administrators so far.

“It’s  been  a  really  beautiful  journey  to  help  others  to  learn  to  work  through  their  mental  health  struggles  with  the  tools  that  I  provide  to  them,  and  ultimately  to  help  them  begin  their journey to self-love,” said Watts. “I write blog  posts  every  week,  to  continuously  stay  open about any struggles that I go through, to remind others that although mental health recovery is possible, it is not a linear experience, and I still struggle sometimes. I also speak to students  and  student-athletes,  coaches,  parents, and administrators about my own struggle,  and  empower  them  to  practice  mental  wellness.”

Knowing  that  this  is  a  difficult  time  for  student  athletes  to  deal  with  the  loss  of  their  season,  Watts  created  the  COVID-19  Mental  Health  Support  Modules  to  help  students  navigate their changing identities and circumstances.

“Imagine  training  for  your  entire  life,  get-ting ready to play in a championship game, or getting ready for your last season as a collegiate athlete,  and  being  told  to  go  home,  and  that  you could not participate in your sport, indefinitely,” said Watts. “For so many athletes, their sport  is  all  they  know  about  themselves.  Un-fortunately, a lot of athletes, myself including, struggle with a loss of identity, and depression, when their collegiate career is over. Many athletes know this transition is coming at the end of  college.  But  with  COVID,  that  transition  came suddenly and with a lot of emotions.”

With resources such as videos, reading content  and  downloadable  activities,  she  helps  students to create a mental health toolkit that can  be  used  during  this  difficult  time.  Module  topics  include  self-care  techniques,  motivation, leadership, the power of positivity and finding your identity outside of athletics.

She encourages students to use this time to develop  their  identity  outside  of  their  sport  through  participation  in  other  activities  that  bring them joy and add value to their life. This can be anything from art to caring for animals.

“The idea that if a student-athlete can work on  their  mental  wellness  now,  to  help  them  build  a  stronger  foundation  to  reach  their  goals, can help to ease some of the fears they may be having about their sport,” Watts said.

The modules are not just for those who are currently struggling, but they can also be pro-active.  Finding  out  what  self-care  techniques  are most beneficial for students allows them to be better prepared for inevitable challenges in the future.

“I  think  these  modules  are  a  great  way  for  students,  no  matter  where  they  are  on  their  journey, to begin to love, accept and celebrate themselves, and remember that their story, no matter  how  big  or  how  small  it  may  seem,  is  valid, and that who they are in this moment, is more than enough,” said Watts.

In  addition  to  these  resources,  Watts  also  strives  to  break  the  stigma  around  mental  health.  By  sharing  her  own  stories  she  hopes  to encourage others to seek help and to under-stand that they are not alone.

“As  we  continue  to  share  our  stories  with  others,  it  becomes  a  domino  effect,  and  then  together, we can make a difference, in showing people  that  speaking  up  about  what  you  are  going  through  does  not  show  weakness,  but  instead  it  shows  so  much  strength,  because  you  decided  you  wanted  more  for  yourself,  and that you couldn’t do it alone,” said Watts.

Student-athletes  interested  in  the  module  resources  can  reach  out  to  their  coaches  for  more info.