If you walk up to the second floor in the William H. Pitt Center and make a right into the study room, you will find two sliding glass doors on the right side. Inside these doors is the office of Kathleen Early, Sacred Heart University’s first ever athletic mental health counselor.
As the only resource designated specifically to mental health for student athletes at Sacred Heart, Early’s biggest day-to-day responsibility includes counseling sessions with student athletes.
“I have always felt that it is very important to allow athletes to have a space to be able to not be okay and talk about all the pressures they are facing,” said Early. “I decided to put together both my passion of helping other people and my love for athletics.”
Early completed her undergraduate degree at Fairfield University while also playing for their Division 1 women’s soccer program. She got her first taste of the athletics program at Sacred Heart working as an intern before eventually taking on the role as a counselor.
Not all student athletes are required to attend counseling sessions with Early, but she has found that a good majority of student athletes seek help.
“We, as a counseling center, believe that students should be ready and willing to seek help,” said Early. “We always promote help seeking and we are always there for our student athletes, but never mandate counseling.”
Additionally, counseling sessions with Early typically work on a short term basis. Students usually attend anywhere between one and six to eight sessions.
One of the most common issues that Early has had to help student athletes understand is that being an athlete is not their only identity. She works with student athletes to help them understand that apart from being a student athlete, they are in college to get an education and build their career as well.
“Many student athletes feel as though being an athlete is the whole part of them,” said Early. “Helping student athletes understand that there is more to them than being an athlete is a big part of what we do.”
Performance anxiety has been on rise since the Covid-19 pandemic as well as pressures surrounding performance due to the stoppage in playing. Many student athletes have been challenged with preparing to compete again.
This past year, Early has been drumming up new ways to improve her department’s influence. One way in which she has done this is by providing student athletes with an app called Restore Resilience.
Along with this app, many student athletes have become involved in the on campus club Heart to Heart, which is dedicated to student athletes and mental health.
“One really fun initiative that the club has been able to do this academic year is something called Wellness Wednesdays,” said Early. “Every Wednesday, we open up the skybox upstairs in the Pitt Center to create a fun space for student athletes to destress and connect with other student athletes.”
Early is constantly looking for many ways to help create a culture that fosters help seeking for Sacred Heart athletes.
“We want student athletes to know that it is okay to not be okay and that there are resources out there for them.” Early said.
To schedule a counseling session, you can contact Early via email (email@example.com) or by phone at (203) 371-7955.