Unlike a torn ACL or a broken arm, mental health isn’t so evident, and a stigma can remain that an athlete who seeks help is admitting weakness.
It’s a stigma that is getting less powerful as more awareness has been created nationwide concerning the importance of seeking help, and at UNLV, athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois took a major step aimed at wiping it out.
UNLV hired its first full-time sports psychologist in September: Green Valley High graduate and Henderson native Kacey Oiness.
“Holistic development of our student-athletes is a top priority,” Reed-Francois said. “One in four student-athletes at the college level shows signs of depression. We train the body, but we also understand the importance of having mental health resources integrated into our performance areas.”
Oiness, 35, said she likes the idea of starting a department from scratch.
“I think the NCAA has really recognized the value in mental health and made it a priority to create these leading-edge programs in collegiate athletics,” Oiness said. “So the idea that I could come somewhere that didn’t have that yet and help form that based on the experiences I’ve had in the past is really exciting for me …”
Oiness has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Iowa State. She received master’s and doctorate degrees in counseling psychology from Colorado State, and worked at Oklahoma in 2013 to finish her postdoctoral fellowship.
She most recently coordinated mental health services at Purdue. At UNLV, Oiness has made a point to visit with each UNLV team about the resources available for those who need them. One of her duties is working with athletes to make sure they have the proper mindset for training and competitions.
It’s a topic she knows well. As a senior in 2006 at Iowa State, she won the Big 12 Conference gymnastics floor championship.
“A big part of what I do … is go and talk about how to gain that mental edge,” she said. “So what are some tools you can acquire to help you be more confident, be more consistent under pressure and then maintain that composure?”