HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) – The tragic death of JMU softball player Lauren Bernett earlier this week has highlighted the importance of mental health struggles faced by student-athletes, and has college athletic departments evaluating the resources they have available.
“We are noticing that student-athletes are arriving with heavier emotional loads, possibly as a result of COVID but also other things that are going on in their lives,” said Carrie Bert, assistant athletic director and senior woman administrator at Eastern Mennonite University.
As many in the community grieve, student-athletes at EMU are also processing Bernett’s tragic passing.
“We have athletes who were teammates with athletes at Bridgewater or JMU or have shared coaching staffs at times. We’re pretty well connected with those teams and so there are moments where these things feel like they’s hitting on our own teams here even though it may not be that way, ”said Bert.
Bert says EMU Athletics will review its mental health policy and resources over the summer.
The university does provide a number of options for student-athletes, like support groups, walk-in hours with counselors, access to the online therapy platform Talkspace, and JMU’s McMillan Center of Sports Psychology.
“Teams are doing things on their own as well. We have partnered with a nonprofit called Minding Your Mind for some presentations to our staff but also to student teams as groups so they can experience those training sessions with folks they spend the most time with, ”said Bert.
EMU knows the life of a student-athlete can be very strenuous, and it is always working to make resources available to them.
“It is absolutely a necessity for us to pay attention and to raise awareness and be available to students and offer opportunities and spaces and accessibility to resources during these times,” said Bert.
EMU also trains its coaches to lend a helping hand to athletes who may be struggling.
“To be very attentive and to be constantly checking in and asking, and we know that’s not always enough. Some of our training is focused on being aware and being able to spot signs and symptoms of mental health distress that maybe isn’t being talked about, ”said Bert.
Bert said that EMU Athletics works to create an open and welcoming environment for student-athletes that she feels makes a big difference.
“Student-athletes will stop and talk, coaches will stop and talk and I feel like that’s an atmosphere we’ve created here at EMU. There is a sense of willingness to share and resources to gather and find solutions and problem solve in ways that maybe does not exist everywhere, ”she said.
EMU’s softball team honored Lauren Bernett by wearing purple and gold hair bows with her initials on them during this week’s ODAC championships.
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