December 2, 2022


healthy part of faith

Jeni Shannon’s work with UNC athletes highlights importance of mental health resources

4 min read

Rising exploration supports the relevance of sports psychology, in particular in educational facilities and athletic courses with superior-general performance expectations. 

At UNC, a Electricity Five university that holds every single group to a regular of countrywide competition, developing psychological overall health applications for athletes is primarily crucial for their general wellbeing.

Jeni Shannon, the director of the Carolina Athletics Psychological Wellness and Performance Psychology Software, is a single of a few entire-time companies at UNC groundbreaking the athletic department’s method to sporting activities psychology. Shannon, alongside Brendan Carr and Bradley Hack, are producing applications to enable address mental sickness within UNC’s athletic group.

When Shannon was a senior in higher university, a occupation-ending injury pulled her out of the earth of competitive gymnastics and into coaching. An undergraduate system at the College of Arizona known as “The Psychology of Excellence” exposed to her to the industry of sports psychology, and she recognized its relevance by way of her possess practical experience in sports activities and her time with gamers. 

Although Shannon recognizes that UNC offers “an enjoyable athletic lifestyle to be a aspect of,” she is also cognizant of the effect of significant athletic anticipations coupled with educational rigor.

“I feel the flip side of it can be (that) it is a good deal of pressure and you are quite community often,” Shannon mentioned. “There is a large amount of expectation. It’s a hard everyday living, it definitely is.”

The affect of Shannon and her colleagues’ work inside the athletic area reveals a essential oversight inside of the area of athletics drugs when it will come to psychological well being, specifically in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Increasing senior volleyball player Parker Austin noticed daily life as an athlete at UNC just before and soon after COVID-19, and stated that staying an athlete all through the pandemic was an isolating encounter. 

“It’s this never-ending cycle of wake up, work out, go to apply, come household, shower and go to mattress,” Austin mentioned. “It’s just this persistent cycle that you get sort of get stuck into and you don’t leave your space, and you just you should not get to see other folks. That impacted me pretty closely.”

AMP has grown exponentially in the past couple of many years, increasing from one to 3 comprehensive-time companies. According to Shannon, a the vast majority of the operate she and her colleagues do consists of interacting with athletes a single-on-just one, but there are also several new initiatives that intention to incentivize far more peer management within just sporting activities teams themselves. 

UNC subject hockey head mentor Karen Shelton said that  Shannon’s work with her crew has been “outstanding.” 

Shannon hosts weekly 30-minute conferences with the workforce, supplying a secure space to explore matters this sort of as athletic overall performance and social and workforce challenges.

“It gives most people a part on the workforce,” Shelton stated. “No make a difference what your situation is, you have a voice. I feel that’s one of the largest factors, but also, effectiveness. If you are not having a good recreation, obtaining a software or a little something that you can assume of that can pull you back in.” 

Shannon is effective directly with a variety of athletic teams at UNC by means of sessions, outreach and programming. She claims there is also a newfound aim on instruction coaches so that they can be far better outfitted when mental well being issues crop up within their teams. 

A further important component of integrating sports psychology into the UNC Department of Athletics Medication is the work to destigmatize the dialogue all over effectiveness difficulties and stress.

“Mental overall health is wellbeing,” Shannon reported. “It is not individual from, it really is just a part of your wellness. I believe a single of the most significant factors we can do is tackle it just like we do bodily overall health. Have coaches point out it and speak about it. Have athletic trainers and staff doctors be checking in on psychological health and fitness together with physical wellness. Have athletes be inclined to talk to each individual other about it.”

By making sure gamers are at ease speaking about mental health and fitness difficulties with their coaching team and peers, Shannon and her team can collectively build a safer room for athletes at UNC. 

While AMP is increasing, 3 full-time vendors may perhaps not be sufficient for a big populace of athletes. Some have voiced issues that the range of companies does not match the improved need for mental wellness products and services.

“It is so amazing to see UNC as a total begin to destigmatize mental health and fitness,” UNC women’s soccer volunteer assistant and soaring junior Madi Pry explained. “We’re possessing additional conversations about it and encouraging people to get assist. But then all over again we have 3 entire-time sporting activities psychologists for above 800 athletes, which is of system heading to develop waitlists.” 

The presence of an extensive waitlist, on the other hand, highlights the salience of Shannon’s operate in the UNC athletic neighborhood, and exhibits that AMP is a system UNC must carry on to acquire. 

“The influence that they’re acquiring on athletes, now and taken off and long term athletes, is going to be big,” Austin said. “I am just energized to see how it keeps rising and how it can continue to keep encouraging college students for the reason that it’s actually so crucial.”

Shelby Swanson contributed reporting to this story.


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