NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – May is Mental Health Month and one local university’s athletics department is prioritizing their athletes’ mental health. 

Delisha Milton-Jones leads the Old Dominion women’s basketball team as its head coach. Milton-Jones coaches from experience, and as a former collegiate player, she knows what players have to go through.  

“When you look at their schedule as a student athlete they are on the go,” Milton-Jones said. “From sunup to sundown. There are very high standards put on them. They have to achieve their goal.”

A 2022 NCAA survey revealed mental exhaustion, anxiety, and depression remain up to two times higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates and coaches say young athletes are worried about their grades, their performance in the game and maintaining their scholarships. 

“We had issues before COVID,” said Dr. Sonja Lound, ODU’s director of student-athlete wellbeing and mental health. “But COVID definitely made it worse. I think the younger generations are grabbling with how to re-enter society – being in isolation a lot, lonely, being able to connect.”

Recently, ODU hosted a Sports & Mental Health Symposium. The idea stemmed from the Youth Sports Mental Health and Wellness Alliance between the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and other groups. 

“I think it’s a fabulous thing that we do for our student-athletes,” Milton-Jones said.

“This generation is great at breaking down the stigma,” Lound said. “They are less afraid to come in for mental health services. They are able to ask for help.”

The ODU athletics staff say they look forward to hosting similar events in the future.