Depression and anxiety are deeply common among college students, as surveys by the American College Health Association have repeatedly shown. But if experiencing the dislocation of college as a student doesn’t seem hard enough, consider life as a student-athlete: the stress factors compound in practically every way.
At Harvard University Radcliffe Institute’s recent Game Changers Conference, I attended a talk by the NCAA’s very first chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hainline. The NCAA hired him in 2012 to develop a nationwide set of resources for better care, providing team physicians and athletic trainers with the latest expertise and research. Hainline considers mental health the most critical concern among today’s student-athletes. As he said upon his hiring, “our collective goal is nothing short of a societal shift in how our country addresses the health and wellbeing of student-athletes at all ages.”
In my work as an interior designer for collegiate athletic facilities, I approach my projects with that societal shift in mind. Like any successful project, the desired outcome is best expressed as early as possible, in the programming process. I ask stakeholders, how do we improve mental health among student-athletes? How do we use space to address issues related to athletic injury, eating disorders, substance abuse, academic workload, and the constant pressure to succeed?
In the design process for Northwestern University’s Ryan/Walter Athletics Center, we answered those questions early on, outlining a collaborative care model that integrates athletic trainers, team physicians and clinical sport psychologists. Such a model, says Tory Lindley, Northwestern’s director of athletic training, “enhances mental health management and the promotion of lifetime wellness.” He says there is no question that “facility design, including appropriate adjacencies in clinical spaces as well as preservation of confidentiality, can help remove the negative stigma around addressing mental health issues in collegiate student-athletes.”