WUSTER, Massachusetts – Michael O’Brien, a sophomore college student and third-division NCAA basketball player, has a lot to juggle. That’s why this 20-year-old student and his teammates from Clark University began to focus on their mental health in addition to honing their skills on the court.

“Basketball requires a lot of you at once. I feel like it’s coming to life. You’re not being asked to do one thing and one thing,” O’Brien said, standing in the middle of his college campus recently.

Many young people from his team now meet regularly to talk about the stresses they face.

“You should not be ashamed to ask for help,” he added.

Nearly half of all college students reported having had a psychiatric episode in the past year. And a staggering 73% of students experience some sort of mental health crisis while in college. One-third of all college students report feeling so depressed at school that they had trouble functioning at school.

Dr. Nadia Ward oversees the Masakowski Institute at Clark University and has helped the men’s basketball team orient itself in a new focus on the mental well-being of athletes. The purpose of the institute is to help young people and adolescents develop social and emotional skills.

“You see, more and more young people are worried, more young people are depressed,” Dr. Ward said.

As part of this push to help young people cope with some of the mental health problems caused by the pandemic, this university is developing a new app. This allows students to take a small assessment quiz and then offer tools to help. Dr. Nadia Ward says young black men are of particular concern.

“They are the least likely to be in need of health, and are likely to be dealing with anxiety, depression and behavioral health problems,” she added.

Returning to the court, Michael O’Brien is preparing for next season. Focus on becoming the best athlete both in and out of the gym.

“You know you’re not alone when there are people around you who feel the same way and you talk about your emotions,” he said.

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