From anger and anxiety to panic attacks and sleep problems, we hear a lot about mental health issues. The pandemic seems to have exacerbated problems for many. Athletes are not immune and from Olympic gymnasts choosing not to compete to pro football players walking off the field, we’ve had a front-row seat to mental health issues.
Dr. Marc Felizzi, an associate professor of social work at Millersville University, was recently selected to serve as a mental health provider for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. In his role, he will be referred to U.S. Olympic athletes who may need mental health assistance or therapy.
With the Winter Olympics in full swing, Felizzi says he will be referred clients immediately and could work with athletes in China right now. He talked about how mental health impacts athletes, “Besides the pressures of making the team, of dealing with COVID in a foreign country and a host of other issues, athletes are often considered vulnerable for mental health issues, especially on the world’s stage. Injuries, career-ending or career delaying, are always at the forefront of an athlete’s mind. Additionally, recovery times from events losses can impact an athlete’s mental health. There is also the specter of a positive drug test and the potential consequences hanging over athletes.”
While Felizzi will be able to help the lives of athletes, he says his work will also benefit Millersville students, “The benefit for our students will be immeasurable, as the sub-specialty of Sports Social Work gains a foothold. Social Workers provide the majority of mental health services in North America, and the profession is ready to work with and support athletes in their journeys.”
Felizzi will continue to teach in the School of Social Work and says, “This experience will be invaluable for students in our Dual Degree MSW/MEd in Sport Management, as I will be able to discuss real-life cases (maintaining confidentiality, of course) to the classroom. Additionally, this will supplement learning through discussing my clinical experiences with athletes in our new Mental Health, Sport and Social Work course.”
The committee that Felizzi serves on was formed in 2019. “There were many athletes seeking mental health support, yet there was no reference base or registry available for athletes to visit clinicians who are well versed in working with the athlete population,” says Felizzi. Going forward he will meet with athletes via Zoom, phone or in person- whichever the athlete feels most comfortable.
Felizzi, a member of the Alliance of Social Workers in Sports, was referred to the committee by that group. “I am already on the referral list for ASWIS, and upon acceptance to their Mental Health Registry, I was encouraged to apply to USOPC. I applied one year ago, so there is a great deal of vetting, and I had to go through several interviews before being accepted.” Serving on the committee is a lifelong appointment.
Millersville’s dual degree in social work and sport management is the only one of its kind in North America.
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