Athletics Department announces new mental health program

Pitt's new Athletic Director Heather Lyke speaks at her introductory press conference Monday alongside Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. (TPN File Photo)

Pitt’s Athletics Department announced a new partnership with Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC to add two full-time mental health counselors to the department’s staff to interact with student-athletes on a daily basis, according to a statement released Wednesday.

Student-athletes were previously referred to WPIC for mental health treatment. The new program will include one-on-one counseling and focus on techniques for practicing mindfulness and stress reduction.

“The program reflects Pitt’s commitment to the student-athlete experience and ensures Pitt’s responsiveness to the health and well-being of our student-athletes,” Athletic Director Heather Lyke said in the statement.

Kristen Mackel, a two-time Pitt graduate, will serve as the program’s lead clinical counselor. Mackel worked with Pitt student-athletes referred to WPIC beginning in 2015, specifically on stress and time management, concussion and injury symptoms and individual therapy.

Leigh Skvarla will be the program’s clinical counselor. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University in psychology, where she minored in dance and philosophy. She received her Ph.D. in sports and exercise psychology from West Virginia University. Skvarla is an adjunct course instructor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, and her team of researchers recently received a grant from the NCAA to develop web-based methods to help coaches get their players necessary mental health treatment.

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