Mental health director helps athletes cope with pandemic, lifestyle changes

Director of Mental Wellness Anne Weese provides mental help for all K-State athletes. (Photo courtesy of Anne Weese)

COVID-19 brought with it an abundant of physical affects, but it has also wreaked havoc on mental health. Anne Weese, director of mental wellness for athletes, said her job has been dramatically affected by the pandemic.

Weese, a Salina native, has been employed by Kansas State since March 2018, but was previously with the athletic department from 2011 to 2013 while finishing an internship for her doctorate.

Weese now works with every varsity sport in the athletic department and provides student athletes the opportunity to discuss their mental or physical health issues with an expert in the field.

“They are students so they have access to the counseling center the way any other student would, but I am the only provider here,” Weese said. “Sometimes if we have athletes with more specific needs like alcohol and substance abuse or eating disorders, we’ll find a specialist in the community to connect them to.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many athletes with much uncertainty regarding their seasons and disruptions to their everyday lifestyle.

“Some of the major concerns I see currently are athletes struggling with managing the abrupt changes in their schedules, adjusting to varying levels of fitness as they return to their sport, disordered eating behaviors, sleep disruptions, increased anxiety and low moods,” Weese said.

Weese said even though she is the only person in the athletic department to specifically deal with mental health, players know they can always reach out to their coaching staff as well.

Kenzie Applegate, sophomore defender on the soccer team, said she feels like her coaches make sure mental health and checkups are a priority.

Applegate is one of the many athletes that have been affected by the changes that COVID-19 has created for athletics, including the need to quarantine upon arrival on campus.

“At first it was very difficult for us, especially since we had just gotten out of quarantine and were excited to be back on campus,” Applegate says. “Until we were out of quarantine, we couldn’t see each other, but once we got in our bubble it was good,” Applegate said.

Gabe Romo, associate head coach for K-State Soccer, is a former collegiate athlete himself, so he finds himself relating to similar situations that his players are going through right now.

“It is very nice coming from a background of being a student athlete,” Romo said. “I would say right now is the toughest year I’ve ever seen for mental health and student athletes. I try and do a good job as much as I can every day to check on them, whether it’s in person or through text if I didn’t get an opportunity to talk to them that day.”

Weese meets with over a quarter of K-State’s athletes regularly. Since the pandemic began, Weese started asking herself how she could navigate her job in the midst of it all.

“I have never been a therapist during a pandemic,” Weese said. “How do you do this? What does it look like? Living in constant uncertainty has been very challenging. For a lot of our athletes, this is their livelihood and this is their family’s livelihood. The athletes interested in coming to talk to me — my numbers have doubled.”

This year has brought many challenges with it and is testing a lot of athletes at K-State.

“I would say if the average severity of concern was a four, we’re talking about now being at like a seven or an eight,” Weese said.

Amid the chaos, Weese recently received a donation from a donor to help with the mental health needs of athletes across campus. Weese plans to immediately use the donation in the favor of the athletes to help them during these hard times.