The Unspeakable Stigma - A Coach's Perspective
Name: Katherine Pauletti
Team Coaching: Women’s Hockey
How long have you been coaching at SHU? This will be my third season with the women’s ice hockey team.
Will your team be doing a mental health game or interested in one in the future? If so, when?
Yes! Looking forward to our 2nd annual Mental Healthy game. Date is TBD.
Do you think Heart to Heart; is helping address issues within the athletic department and starting that needed conversation?
I think that starting the much needed conversation has been one of the best things Heart to Heart; has done. It has provided an outlet for athletes to address any of their problems with an abundance of resources made available. It has been an amazing first step in shutting down the stigma surrounding mental health, especially in athletics where athletes are continuously told to “persevere” or “stay strong” through various circumstances.
What is your perspective “from the bench” of mental health and its effects on your athletes?
Within the past couple years it has been amazing to see how the awareness surrounding mental health has risen- especially within athletics. As a fairly recent 2016 college graduate, my years on the rink and on the field have differed in various ways, including the stigma surrounding mental health as an NCAA athlete. Juggling school, studying, practices, travel schedules, lifts, exams, meetings, competitions, work, and the stressors of everyday life can become all too overwhelming at times. These immense pressures constantly bear weight on our minds that are always running a hundred miles an hour.
Being on a team always provided an immediate family and support system; we loved each other, we trusted one another, there was always a helping hand or listening ear, but when it came to mental health, it just wasn’t something that was candidly talked about. As a teammate, you knew that other players battled with depression, had feelings of anxiety, struggles with nutrition and body image, attended therapy sessions, and had external doctors’ appointments, but these realities were probably the one and only subject that wasn’t talked about in or out of the locker room. I can see how the worries of feeling alone, weak, and misunderstood all could have played factors into not knowing how to address these situations.
When I was an athlete, this thought went both ways. Those struggling internally did not want to appear fragile or thought of differently, while the other teammates did not know how to best handle these issues. For me, it was always a matter of not wanting to say the wrong thing, not wanting to make someone else uncomfortable, not wanting to add further pressure, not knowing what to say, and certainly not knowing what to do. As a leader on these teams, all I wanted was to be a good teammate. These issues lingered around the locker room each season but an unspeakable stigma was always attached on each spectrum.
Heart to Heart; has given students, those dealing with their own mental battles and the teammates wanting to provide support but not knowing how to best approach the situation, an outlet and a forum. Mental illness, regardless of the situation, is a difficult subject for anyone to talk about.
"Heart to Heart has provided the necessary and beneficial resources for all members of a team to openly confront these topics without any fears."
Now as a coach, not only have I gained a new perspective on this subject, but it is something that is taken into consideration on the job each day. We are there to support our student athletes in every way. We want them to succeed athletically, academically, career-wise, and socially. In addition to those pieces, a healthy state of mind now tops that list. More than anything, coaches want to see their athletes thrive all around.
Today, more than ever, athletes are faced with greater obstacles, higher pressures, and more things to manage; it’s a lot to handle and we applaud you for doing so. Daily tasks, such as general communication, creating practice plans, finalizing game line-ups and more are all now thought about from the perspective of having varying effects on each player’s psyche. In the end, these decisions are made with the team’s greater-good in mind, but making sure to recognize that our team is made up of individual’s with diverse mindsets is also very pertinent.
Just like Heart to Heart has emphasized, “It is OK to not be OK”, and the coaches at SHU are all onboard to support our athletes in this area, as well.
Coach Katherine Pauletti - Women's Ice Hockey