Game Changer: Mental Health Strategic Communication Plan for Varsity Football Players

Title: Game Changer: Mental Health Strategic Communication Plan for Varsity Football Players
Authors: DeLenardo, Samantha
Date: 2013
Abstract: In the past two years, six National Football League players have died by suicide. Investigations into most of the deaths revealed that the players suffered from brain damage likely caused by repeated concussions. As is the case with many health issues, tragedy often precedes action; the suicides of these high profile football stars have catalyzed action on concussion policy and practice, as well as opened up the conversation about the overall mental health of athletes. This thesis joins the conversation around mental health and athletes, specifically Canadian varsity football players. Mental health problems and illnesses are presented as especially common, affecting about 1 in 5 Canadians. That is not to underestimate the severity of mental illnesses, which can deteriorate an individual’s quality of life, significantly impact friends and family and, in the most severe cases, also lead to death by suicide. That said, this thesis adopts a theoretical perspective that focuses on the promotion and protection of good mental health. This thesis is primarily concerned with investigating the social, political, and external factors that negatively impact how football players conceptualize mental health and mental illness, and also the recommended behaviour to seek professional help if needed. The growing body of research concerning the negative impact of mental illness stigma is compelling and leaves no doubt that stigma is a significant barrier to recovery. This thesis explores the stigma process as well as its social function in groups. Next, it investigates how the already powerful stigma around mental illness is further exacerbated by gender and more specifically, how traditional masculine ideology (i.e. men should be strong and powerful) conflicts with stereotypical beliefs about mentally ill people (i.e. weak and/or incompetent). Gender and health are further linked in terms of behaviour. In other words, rejecting health behaviours becomes a strategy some men utilize to project their masculinity, paradoxically contributing to the creation or worsening of many health problems. A health behaviour that is explored in detail is psychological help-seeking, and the psychosocial processes of help-seeking, which are also mainly regulated by masculinity. An overview of the most common mental health problems and illnesses found in male varsity athletes is provided. All of the above components are then applied to the unique context of varsity football players. The thesis draws on the literature as well as qualitative interview data that explores the experiences of 8 varsity football players at the University of Ottawa. Regarding mental health promotion, the findings show that football players may require adapted communication approaches. To that end, the thesis transitions into an early-stage health communication plan supported by the literature and the primary data. The plan proposes overall outcomes, short term/intermediate objectives, a communication strategy, and a tactical approach. Next, a web-based health resource is suggested as a primary communication vehicle and is outlined in detail. The plan then suggests potential partnerships for extending the strategic communication plan’s reach and credibility. This is followed by suggestions for evaluating both the short term/intermediate objectives as well as the strategic communication plan’s overall impact. This thesis concludes with a chapter exploring the contributions lifted from the eight qualitative interviews, as well as suggested directions for research, policy and practice.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -