Athletic Trainers’ Perceptions of their Role in the Mental Health Care of Student-Athletes

Lauren Beasley – Georgia State University
Robin Hardin – University of Tennessee
Dominic J. Palumbo – University of North Carolina at Charlotte

There are unique aspects of the collegiate athletic culture that can increase the risk for mental health concerns among student-athletes. Athletic trainers, due to the amount of time spent with student-athletes, are considered a key member of student-athletes’ holistic care team. Athletic trainers are many times the first point of mental health referrals for student-athletes, so this study sought to understand athletic trainers’ own perceptions of their role in the mental health care of student-athletes. Eight participants from Southeastern Conference institutions participated in semi-structured interviews. Three themes were constructed from the data analysis: (a) first line of defense, (b) holistic care team, and (c) scope of practice. Athletic trainers understood their role as distinct from mental health professionals but called for more specific training in recognizing mental health concerns and appropriate referral practices within interprofessional teams, so that they could stay within their scope of practice. Understanding the athletic trainers’ perception of their role on interprofessional care teams in addressing student-athlete mental health offers insights how to best structure mental health services in collegiate athletic departments.