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Monday, December 9, 2019

Sports

Athletics partners with Talkspace to address mental health


The addition of Talkspace allows for student athletes to have around-the-clock access to trained mental health professionals. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

The addition of Talkspace allows for student athletes to have around-the-clock access to trained mental health professionals. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

College students often struggle through lack of sleep, test anxiety and stress from classes, but student athletes must also endure the added pressure of competing at one of the highest levels of their sport, maintaining their class loads and representing their university.

As a way to improve the overall mental and physical well-being of student athletes, the University announced in October that it was partnering with Talkspace, an app that allows access to therapists through texting and video calling.

“I think it’s great,” said DeJuena Chizer, the senior associate athletics director for student athlete development. “We wanted to have an opportunity to reach our kids where they are, and Talkspace provides that platform that they need, and we’re glad to have this resource for our student athletes.”

Talkspace allows patients to have direct contact with over 5,000 licensed and vetted therapists who are available to talk all day.

This partnership was prompted by the Pow6rful Minds Campaign, which was started in 2017 by the American Athletic Conference Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). The main objective of this campaign is to bring awareness to mental health issues and decrease the negative connotations that often stop student athletes from seeking help.

The app is a great resource for athletes, said Vice President for Athletics Chris Pezman in a news release. Athletes have to juggle a full schedule between classes, homework, practices and games, and Talkspace allows them to address any mental health issues as symptoms arise.

“We are constantly striving for innovative ways to enhance our student athlete experience,” Pezman said. “The physical and mental health of our student athletes is our top priority.”

Before Talkspace, UH Athletics hosted Let’s Talk with CAPS on Mondays for student athletes to attend when they needed it.

These sessions will still be available to student athletes, but Talkspace offers UH an opportunity to meet them in a place that’s easiest for them — on their phone.

“People don’t have as many face-to-face conversations as they used to, and (Talkspace) aligns with that,” said soccer head coach Diego Bocanegra. “I think it’s less invasive at first, and I think it’s a good stepping stone to seeing someone in person.”

For Bocanegra, mental health awareness has been integrated into how he runs his team. He relies on weekly staff meetings where they discuss how the athletes are doing on and off the field.

“Our players know we have an open-door policy, and we have a great staff, whether it’s medical staff or one of the assistant coaches,” Bocanegra said. “We all have different relationships with our players, and depending on those relationships, it allows us to know our players really well.”

Another added benefit to Talkspace is the judgment-free zone it provides for student athletes. Conversations with therapists on the app are confidential and are covered under the same privacy laws as in-person therapy sessions.

“Maybe texting and calling is the first step, but they can actually get that help and not feel bad about it or not feel that something is wrong with them,” Bocanegra said.

In the end, the University is committed to student welfare, and Talkspace is yet another way for student athletes to take initiative with a sense of security and ensure their mental and physical health.

“Talkspace is just a good way to hopefully take away the stigma, give them more avenues and more options to speak with health professionals,” Bocanegra said, “and then it’s a stepping stone to if they need to speak with somebody in person.”

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