Counselling for Varsity teams and why #BellLetsTalk is Problematic

As a student-athlete on the women’s Varsity Cross Country Team, it’s often very challenging to keep up with not only academic pressure but also athletic pressure and expectations. Being part of a team means that there are conflicts, but I feel exceptionally proud to be part of a varsity team.

Right now, mental health supports at Acadia are limited to the Peer Support Centre and counselling in the Old Students’ Union Building. I don’t believe that these supports are enough. Acadia University needs to hire counsellors specifically allocated to varsity teams that understand the pressures of academic responsibilities on top of athletic pressures. Training eight times a week takes its toll on the body and mind so these specific supports are essential.

While Acadia University has many athletic therapists to provide attention to the physiological aspect of one’s well-being, the mental health of athletes is not addressed effectively. Hiring counsellors who understand academic pressures and athletic pressures is necessary. Counsellors would be just as much of a part of the staff just as athletic therapists.

Varsity athletes are expected to be strong not only physically but mentally. Having mental health challenges doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. Addressing these challenges within a team environment where student-athletes have support before and after practice and during competition days would be hugely beneficial. Varsity team counsellors should be just as much of a part of the team staff as athletic therapists. Mental health is just as important as physical health, if not more.

While the #BellLetsTalk hashtag is aimed to support to ‘mental health initiatives’ across the country, we have to wonder what mental health initiatives are being supported. This vague umbrella statement leaves a lot of questions up in the air. One of mine questions is simple: where is the money is going and how much of it is going directly to ‘mental health initiatives’?

One of the aims of #BellLetsTalk is to create an open discussion about mental health and mental illness, yet this requires that students talk about their own mental health challenges. Many people don’t feel comfortable doing so. The vulnerability of students should not be feeding a campaign that is based on a capitalist model.

An alternative strategy would be for money raised from #BellLetsTalk to support different branches of therapy, through counselling, music therapy programs, art therapy programs and others based on student voices and a student need.

I believe that there has to be a far more effective strategy to address mental health challenges within post-secondary institutions across Canada. The restructuring of this campaign may be effective if students knew where this money was going, what this money was being used for, and how much of the money is going to towards external costs.

Being in my last semester at Acadia University, I hope that students who address mental health challenges in the future are heard so they have all the supports they need to thrive.

Jennah Lay is a fourth year Sociology student and member of the Women’s Varsity Cross Country team