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Eagles Let’s Talk: UMW's New Frontier in Athlete Mental Health Support

Articles for Athletic Trainers and News StoriesIn 2022, Katie Carnaghi joined the University of Mary Washington (UMW) as an Athletic Trainer with a mission to address a pressing issue among student-athletes: mental health.

UMW Mental Health Initiative Drawing on her own experiences as a former student-athlete who faced mental health challenges, Carnaghi was driven to create a supportive environment for athletes to discuss these issues openly.

Carnaghi developed "Eagles Let’s Talk," inspired by "Duke’s Let’s Talk" from James Madison University, where she completed her master’s in athletic training.

Collaborating with Krista Rodgers, a senior volleyball player and co-president of UMW’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), they designed the program as a monthly round-table discussion lasting 60 to 90 minutes, covering topics like body image, nutrition, stress management, and supporting injured teammates.

“This year, we’ve done recovering mentally from an injury. We’ve talked about time management. Then, there’s always the opportunity for athletes to just ask questions, or vent a little bit. It’s a place where you can come and talk and feel like you’re supported.”

The meetings, which are exclusive to student-athletes without coaching staff present, foster a casual and safe environment conducive to open dialogue.

Junior women’s soccer player Macey Wissell shared how discussions on supporting injured teammates, a topic particularly close to her following an ACL injury, were immensely beneficial.

“I think that if all teams had conversations about how to support injured teammates, a more positive team culture would be totally encouraged.”

The initiative requires a significant level of commitment from the athletes to be effective.

“I want the athletes to want to get involved because if you have buy-in from the athletes in 'I’m more than an athlete,' then this program will go much further and be much more beneficial."

Rodgers highlighted the importance of the discussion-based structure, which encourages participation and makes it easier to broach tough topics.

“It really was a safe space and a great spot to learn more about things that are tough to talk about.”

One of the program's goals, according to Rodgers, is to normalize conversations about the mental health aspects of athletics, making it a priority for discussion. She expressed hope that continued dialogue will encourage more openness and understanding among athletes about their mental and emotional challenges.

"Eagles Let's Talk" represents a critical step toward recognizing and addressing the mental health needs of student-athletes at UMW, fostering a culture where they can thrive both in and out of their sporting environments.

Read the full story here