Helping athletes perform off the field

Edward Darrah talked about his role as a mental health counselor for Temple's athletes. Story by Matthew Aquino

Ever since performing as a collegiate athlete at nearby Neumann University, Edward Darrah has always wanted to help athletes with their mental health.

“I think it’s brought a lot of great experience just for me to work with a unique population as a student athlete and understanding their needs and being able to tailor clinical services to meet the continuum of an athlete’s progress or wellness is a great challenge as a clinician,” said Darrah, a Mental Health & Performance Counselor at Temple University.

After meeting Dr. Stephanie Coakley, Temple’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Mental Health, Wellness and Performance, at a conference, Darrah was hired as the department’s second full-time staff member in November 2018.

Darrah and Coakley work with Temple athletics on sports psychology and sport performance -related work. They also do coaching training and staff training, as well as counseling athletes or coaches, he said.

“We’re really creating an environment and providing knowledge, a knowledge base, about mental health and wellness, and how it intertwines performance for our department as a whole,” Darrah said.

Darrah thinks it’s great the conversation about mental health is being talked about and thinks this year has been monumental as some athletes addressed mental health at the Olympics.  

“You’re hearing athletes talk about how, you know their mental health being a factor in how they perform and some taking a break or stepping away to treat that really modeled on the importance,” Darrah said.

Approximately 30 percent of women and 25 percent of men who are student-athletes report having anxiety, and only 10 percent of all college athletes with known mental health conditions seek care from a mental health professional according to The American College of Sports Medicine.

In the past, athletes were provided services that would help them grow physically with their health, but there was nothing for their mind or mental health. Darrah sees his role as filling in that gap, which benefits student athletes.

Darrah believes making sure student athletes feel comfortable in their environment is important.

“If you create an environment that is secure, has strong psychological safety, and has empathy and trust,” Darrah said, “those things cultivate an environment that people will feel comfortable to disclose, maybe their mental health status or struggles with their mental health.”

Darrah believes the stigma around mental health still exists, but they have been slowly breaking down the wall in every facet the last four to five years.

After working nearly three years as a Mental Health & Performance Counselor, Darrah has seen success with athletes that have come for services. He has seen athletes work through different mental health-related symptoms and disorders, and work through unresolved emotions and trauma, he said.

He hopes athletes continue to come for health services when they need them especially since the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.

“It certainly is a space where athletes can come and go and you know, looking at ways to to grow themselves and to, you know, address things that come up in their life in a proactive way,” Darrah said.

Darrah is hopeful having access to mental health becomes normal going forward.

“When you go to a primary doctor, there is a mental health provider there. When you go see your athletic trainer, there’s a mental health provider there, where the system of Holistic Health is consistent in all areas,” Darrah said. “That’s my hope and not just in sport, but you know, just in the general public, because we can all gain from it.”

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