U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Reveals Mental Health Taskforce

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Allison Schmitt Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

The United States Olympics and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) Friday announced a Mental Health Taskforce to support Team USA athletes. The 13-member body includes three-time Olympian Allison Schmitt and USA Swimming sports medicine and science director Keenan Robinson.

The group was organized in February to meet on at least a monthly basis but was only announced Friday, its mission taking on greater immediacy as athletes handle the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to 2021 due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The USOPC Mental Health Taskforce includes athletes, coaches and medical/sports science professionals who are, per the release, “charged with developing best practices, resources and action plans to support the mental health needs of Team USA athletes – before, during and after competition – and advise USOPC staff who frequently engage with athletes, on and off the field of play.” It will also advise and collaborate with the USOPC’s internal mental health working group to implement structures and “promote a culture in which seeking and delivering mental health support is encouraged throughout the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community.”

Schmitt is one of the highest profile members of the taskforce, not just for her athletic accomplishments that have yielded eight Olympic medals (four gold), but for her public battle with depression. Her mental health struggles had her contemplating ending her career, but she is back in the water and gunning for the next Olympics, setting some of the fastest times of her career while embracing a mentoring, almost “mom-like” role within Team USA.

Robinson is familiar with the long arc of Schmitt’s and other swimmers’ battles in and out of the pool. He’s been with USA Swimming since 2016 and was the head athletic trainer for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams. Before that, he worked with Bob Bowman at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, helping in the development of swimmers like Schmitt and Michael Phelps.

The other members of the USOPC Mental Health Taskforce include:

  • Allison Brock, Olympian (equestrian)
  • Eileen Carey, director of U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing
  • Shannon Decker, executive director and co-founder of The Speedy Foundation
  • Rachael Flatt, Olympian (figure skating)
  • Kensa Gunter, Psy.D., CMPC psychologist and certified mental performance consultant for the USOPC’s Sport Psychology Registry
  • Stanley Herring, MD., clinical professor in the departments of rehabilitation medicine, orthopedics, sports medicine and neurological surgery at the University of Washington
  • Adam Krikorian, head coach of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team
  • Chris Murphy, Paralympian (cycling)
  • Theresa Nguyen, chief program officer of Mental Health America
  • William Parham, Ph.D., ABPP, professor in counseling and interim associate dean of faculty at Loyola Marymount University and director of the mental health and wellness program for the National Basketball Players Association
  • Victor Schwartz, MD., psychiatrist and chief medical officer of The Jed Foundation

“We are acutely aware of the mental health concerns facing our athletes – heightened by the current environment in the Olympic and Paralympic community – and are fully dedicated to being an active leader in providing support and resources to help athletes navigate the pressures, and at times, uncertainty, of their careers,” Dr. Jonathan Finnoff, USOPC chief medical officer, said in a press release. “The goal of the taskforce is to ensure athletes, and the staff who are entrusted with their care, are well-informed and prepared to recognize and respond to individuals in need, both before and once mental health concerns arise.”

The USOPC will take additional steps in light of the COVID-19 crisis. That includes “activating mental health officers” originally scheduled to be part of the Team USA delegations to Tokyo to help athletes remotely. The USOPC Mental Health Taskforce, working groups and others will also work toward developing long-term mental health plans for the USOPC. The organization has extended its ComPsych benefits program to all Team USA athletes, offering unlimited access to phone counseling 24/7 as well as other emotional and wellness support resources.

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