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Tiger Wellness Blog: Mental Health
June 8, 2017

Dr. Shawn Zeplin is the Clinical and Sport Psychologist for Auburn Athletics.

Tiger Wellness

"As a department, we are tasked with the general mental well-being of all of our student athletes. That runs the spectrum. You forget sometimes that these are just people—college students. So we tend to see the same issues as we would see with regular college students.

They have stress from transitioning and being in a new place, being away from home and having things happen at home. Things like this can lead to some depression and other concerns. We're also seeing more anxiety, especially. We've seen that in the general college student population—college athletes aren't immune to that.

Then we get into some things that are more sport related like body image issues, eating concerns. Those happen in the typical college population, but we're also going to see an uptick in certain sports with those things.

Then we add in performance concerns. Helping them focus, concentrate, just to perform better. It's kind of a dual role—it's the mental health side, and then it's also this performance piece to help them perform better.

The reality is each one of these student-athletes puts as much pressure on themselves as anything, and that's what creates a lot of the issues. At the same time, they're still trying to manage and deal with a lot of concerns outside of athletics and Auburn.

We're seeing professional football players, professional basketball players, professional soccer players, coming out and talking about mental health awareness. In athletics, we're so trained to not show any weakness, and our society sees mental health issues as a weakness to some extent. But the reality is, just because you're an athlete doesn't mean that you're immune to everyday stuff that everyone deals with.

When they arrive at Auburn, each student-athlete is required to meet with one of the three of us on staff—just to get to know us. It's not that we're trying to find anything, but it's like a screening. To get to know what we do, and I think it helps to drop the stigma a little bit.

We try to be visible. Confidentiality is a hallmark of what we do, but at the same time, getting people comfortable with seeing any of the three of us as just another resource. A big part of my job has been to break down some of those stigma issues about therapy.

It is not what it looks like on TV. We don't just sit here, and I don't just continue to ask you to tell me how it feels or anything like that. I do have a couch, but there's no lying down while I interpret dreams. Unfortunately, that's what people still see unless you've been through this before.

We're also spending time just talking with staff, coaches, athletes, outside of these formal capacities, just to break down some of that stigma. We're not just analyzing what everybody's thinking and doing at all times.

Knowing that student-athletes are doing this, I do think that sends a message. Every time someone like a Brandon Marshall talks about mental health awareness. We recently had a speaker on campus, Chamique Holdsclaw, who was a WNBA player, SEC legend, women's basketball player, talking about dealing with this stuff.

We have some individuals or teams in general who are pretty open about it. I'll go to practice and they'll be joking around about when their appointment is with me, and it seemed to open the door for someone like a freshman to come in and say, 'Oh okay, people do this, so it's okay.'

I don't personally break confidentiality, but if student-athletes want to do that on their own, to spread that word of 'Yeah, it's cool, I just go talk to Shawn about this or that.' They don't tell each other what they're coming to talk about, they just say that it's okay to see it as a resource. We're seeing positive aspects of that kind of awareness.

We can't force treatment upon anybody. At the same time, when we build that awareness of what a struggle is and what we can actually help people with, they're going to come in sooner and we're going to get them help before they have all of these full-blown difficulties.

"Auburn in general has done a really good job. They've had services here for probably fifteen, sixteen years that were external prior to me getting here. They were managing that when other schools weren't. This is my second academic year, and in that time we've already grown the staff. We have three providers here with all different backgrounds and different specialties.

Auburn has made that commitment. Some schools are just now coming around to the idea of, 'Maybe we should hire one person.' Very few schools have multiple people on campus to do this.

Some other schools will look at that and say, 'Oh Auburn must have a lot of problems.' And I'll say, 'No, there is the same amount of issues that every other school in the country has, they're just actually doing something about it.'

Most professional teams have someone, but they don't necessarily advertise it. Why not? I think it's still because we look at mental health differently. I think slowly in this country you're seeing that change, but Auburn's put a commitment behind it and I think that's good for our student-athletes and good for the campus in general."

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