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WSU reaffirms commitment to mental health following Hilinski's CTE diagnosis

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Washington State University Athletic Department officials reiterated their commitment to mental health awareness and resources for athletes on Tuesday.

The university released a statement after the family of former WSU football player Tyler Hilinski said a study of the 21-year-old's brain revealed evidence of CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease often found in athletes and veterans. Hilinski committed suicide in January 2018.

WSU released the following statement:

Mental health and suicide prevention has been a priority at Washington State University for a number of years. WSU has and will continue to follow best practices from the NCAA as they relate to mental health and suicide prevention, as well as continue to consult with leading industry experts. In fact, in 2016, WSU received a grant from SAMHSA and the JED Foundation and has been working on mental health and suicide prevention awareness ever since. The JED Foundation is widely recognized as one of America’s leading nonprofits committed to protecting emotional health and preventing suicide for teens and young adults. We have active engagement with the JED Foundation to identify any changes that might be needed in the care of our students, including our student-athletes.

Prior to January 2018, WSU's mental health services included:

  • A licensed clinical psychologist and a licensed mental health counselor available for general counseling, including regularly scheduled visits and crisis services.
  • Required mental health screening for all incoming student-athletes, as part of pre-participation examination
  • Required course for all incoming student-athletes, which includes review of wide-ranging campus and community resources
  • Distribution of printed coping resources to all student-athletes (Wellbeing Handbook, to all incoming student-athletes at pre-participation examination mental health Screening).

During the 2018 spring semester, the university pledged to make a lasting, positive impact to address the mental health needs of the university community. Several new initiatives were launched on campus in recent months. Those include:

  • A second formal mental health screening for all members of the football team after we lost Tyler, along with meetings with all varsity athletes to help identify individuals who might be at risk for mental health issues. These screenings were in addition to the annual mental health assessments conducted with all student-athletes at the start of each year
  • Adding a full-time clinical psychologist to the Athletic Department health and wellness area. This mental health professional directly supports student-athletes and is in addition to the team of specialists available to all students at the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services unit
  • Providing free access to Mental Health First Aid, a proactive intervention training, for the entire WSU student body, including student-athletes

Additionally, the Associated Students of Washington State launched the Cougar Health Fund. It is a student-driven endowment that sponsors mental health awareness and related initiatives on the WSU Pullman campus. In the spring, ASWSU hosted the Cougar Courage 5K run to help raise money for the endowment. By the end of April, the group had already raised $50,000.

Athletic department officials said they are taking additional steps for the upcoming year, as well. Those include:

  • The 2018 football team will remember Tyler by displaying a decal on the back of their game day helmets.
  • We are adding a highlight from Tyler’s playing career to the “Home” video, which will be shown before every home game throughout the 2018 football season. In addition, after consulting with national experts, we will also be playing a public service announcement during every 2018 home game that spotlights mental health and suicide prevention awareness.
  • With September being suicide prevention awareness month, we are inviting the Hilinski Family to raise the Cougar flag at the September 8, 2018 home opener against San Jose State University to start the 2018 football season.
  • With potential funding from Hilinski’s Hope, we will add an additional full-time counselor to help student-athletes achieve peak performance. This individual will also collaborate with other WSU partners to implement University-wide awareness efforts.
  • WSU will host a new weekend-long event, “Game Day for Mental Health,” in April 2019 to coincide with the Spring Football Game. The Athletics Department and the Division of Student Affairs are working together with other units across campus to develop programming to raise awareness of mental health needs in the community and to share information on support services and other available resources, including the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation.
  • We are planning a permanent “Walk of Hope” on the Pullman campus. This memorial will offer messages of hope and provide resource information for those in need of mental health support.
  • The University will host a lecture series during the 2018-2019 academic year that will feature local and nationally-recognized experts in the field of mental health. This speaker series will be open to the entire university community.
  • We will continue to evaluate effective education and outreach programs to supplement those already established on the Pullman campus. Programs on bystander intervention geared specifically to student-athletes will also be reviewed, including the Step Up! Bystander Intervention Program developed by the University of Arizona in partnership with the NCAA.