Responding to Athlete’s Mental Health Signs and Symptoms - How You Can Support

Coaches, Athletic Trainers (ATs), parents and guardians don’t have to be experts in the mental health field to support their athletes effectively. In a recent study conducted by the NCAA, student-athletes reported that they look towards coaches as their primary source for information regarding training, physical well-being, and mental health. The Athlete Care Circle, which includes coaches, ATs, parents and guardians, can collaborate to educate themselves on mental health guidance and resources to cast a wider net of support than just coaches alone. 

  1. Know how to recognize signs and symptoms

Knowing how to identify both the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety and depression can help the Care Circle to understand the proper next steps and act sooner.  

  • Common symptoms of anxiety can include; restlessness or irritability, anticipating the worst, racing heart, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, insomnia and upset stomach. 
  • Common symptoms of depression can include; persistent sadness, dramatic changes in sleep, appetite, concentration, and energy, lack of interest in activities, physical aches and pains and suicidal thoughts.
  1. Connect athletes to helpful resources

Upon identifying signs and symptoms of compromised mental health, the Care Circle can collaborate to connect the athlete to helpful resources. For example, an athlete’s primary care provider can help provide initial mental health screenings and specialist referrals. Also, many health insurance companies offer phone or web support for identifying in-network providers. National organizations can also provide resources for athletes and their families:

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance:
  • Mental Health America:
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness:
  1. Implement a follow-up plan

Physical injuries require rest and follow-ups before returning to play, and so do mental health difficulties. The Care Circle can collaborate with the athlete to develop a supportive return-to-play plan. The plan can include a safety plan to follow should mental health symptoms resurface, regular check-ins with coaches, modified athlete playing time, position, or duties, and should follow recommended guidance from mental health professionals. 

Click here to access True Sports Mental Health Educational Resources.


  1. Paris, M. (2020, August 27). Responding to mental health emergencies in Athletics. NFHS.
  2. Schunzel, B. (2020, August 24). Mental health guidance and resources for coaches, athletes, and parents. Junior Volleyball Association.

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