Gophers can relate to Patrick McCaffery’s struggles with mental health

Gophers forward Jamison Battle had empathy for Patrick McCaffery when he saw his former AAU teammate take a leave of absence from the Iowa men’s basketball team last month.

McCaffery, the son of Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery, needed time to deal with anxiety that affected his performance on the field. Like many college athletes, Battle understands that mental health is something many of them need to help maintain during the season.

“Patrick had a lot of things to do, and taking a step back from basketball was huge for him,” said Battle. “Shoutout to him for doing that, because at the end of the day you have to make sure you’re okay for everything.”

Nearly a month later, McCaffery returned to the Hawkeyes, contributing three wins in the final four games starting Sunday at Williams Arena. The Gophers (7-15, 1-11 Big Ten) are back from a COVID-19 hiatus.

How athletes deal with mental health has become more public in some cases recently. Battle’s ex-DeLaSalle teammate Tyrell Terry, a former Stanford and NBA guard, announced on social media in December that he was retiring from professional basketball due to anxiety. Terry is 22 years old.

Five years ago, former Timberwolves star Kevin Love chronicled his decades-long battle with anxiety and depression in a Players’ Tribune essay. Before that, former Hopkins standout Royce White went on a mission to raise awareness about the anxiety disorder that derailed his NBA career after playing at Iowa State.

“That’s something a lot of people don’t really know because athletes are put on such a pedestal,” Battle said. “People don’t always look at what the mental health factors are.”

More than 60% of students met at least one criterion for a mental health problem during the 2020-2021 school year, according to a Healthy Minds Network survey of nearly 400 colleges and universities.

The Gophers are among many athletic programs across the country that emphasize mental health awareness and expanding resources on campus. About 55% of Gophers athletes participating in 2021-2022 used those substances during their careers, according to Dr. Carly Anderson, the U’s director of sports psychology services.

“The training demands of being an athlete, injuries and the pressures that come with it can get pretty overwhelming at times,” said Anderson. “The pandemic has not helped anyone’s mental health in general. But access to mental health [services] in athletics continues to increase every year.”

Anderson said all 21 Gophers sports teams meet with sports psychology staff before the season. All are encouraged to seek more information or schedule in-person sessions if necessary.

“I really want to emphasize that it’s something to be extremely proud of,” Anderson said. “Sometimes we get fixated on mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and trauma, which of course are there.

“The mental well-being includes the performance, psychology and mental side of their sport or game. Things like focus, imagery, communication, confidence and leadership.”

Social media can be very damaging to an athlete’s self-confidence. Anderson said she spoke to many athletes who blocked Twitter accounts or deleted certain apps from their phones during competition.

Gophers coach Ben Johnson, who has been challenged to take a team through a seven-game losing streak, says too much social media isn’t healthy whether you win or lose. He told his players not to dwell on praise or criticism.

“I put myself in the same boat,” Johnson said. “It’s a battle and you can’t protect them. We don’t have a Twitter ban or anything like that. We just talk to them about fans wanting to win and being passionate.”

Battle, who played with McCaffery on D1 Minnesota’s AAU team, has endured personal adversity this season. An All-Big Ten preseason selection, he worked hard to recover after missing the first four games following foot surgery, but it wasn’t just physical setbacks.

“If you’re not doing well mentally, you’re not going to perform well,” said Battle. “When I had issues with my mental health, I tried to face it alone, but in reality there were so many people willing to help you, have advice for you, and have so much insight.”

On January 29, McCaffery played in his first game in 28 days, a 93–82 victory against Rutgers at home. Hawkeyes fans gave him a standing ovation as he entered the game.

Big Ten coaches and players also reached out. McCaffery appreciated everyone welcoming him during a season that was about more than just basketball.

“The support was almost overwhelming at times,” McCaffery told reporters several days after his return. “But everyone gave me the confidence that I was doing for myself, first of all to figure out how to help myself, and then to come back and help the team.”

Gophers can relate to Patrick McCaffery’s struggles with mental health

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