A Q&A about mental health and the Player Assistance Program for current and former NFL players with Gabriel Rodgers, Health Services Senior Specialist at Cigna.
What is the Cigna EAP program? What resources and treatment can a player get?
Cigna's Player Assistance Program (EAP) offers a plethora of services for the player and their family members living in their household. The most notable service is the 8 sessions of free counseling sessions offered to help individuals to navigate concerns ranging from depression to every day stress related concerns. This program also offers couples counseling and family resources that go beyond traditional counseling.
What sort of challenges do current and former players face that can be addressed by counseling/the EAP Program?
Many players can face the hardship of adjustment both before, during and after their career as an athlete. The EAP Program is in place to help the player navigate all of the stressors and emotions associated with daily living. Common concerns are stress and marital/family concerns. However, players, just like common people, experience the sum total of life-changing events that can, and do, have an impact on them.
What are some common misconceptions about counseling and mental health?
One of the biggest misconceptions about counseling is that a person must be “mentally disturbed” to need counseling resources. It should be noted that most people, during the course of their life, will experience a major life event that could bring on emotional duress, and counseling can help with this.
There is also a general stigma that follows mental health, which is unlike any other medical condition that a person may have. For example, if someone broke a bone, they’d have no problem seeing a doctor, or if someone had heart issues they too would see a physician. But sometimes emotional concerns are not given the same amount attention as those of one’s physical body. Yet more and more, data is constantly linking people’s physical health to their emotional wellness.
Mental health is a critical component to overall wellness, and we are seeing more and more individuals needing to pay attention to its vital role.
Why is mental wellness so important? How do mental health challenges affect other areas of a player’s life?
Wellness in mental health is critical to both a player’s performance and their overall health/well-being. A person with poor emotional wellness can be compromised in most areas of their life. Emotional struggle can lead to poor financial decision-making, and can also cause relationships to struggle and even compromise one’s ability to perform on the field. There is plenty of data linking one’s performance to their capacity to think clearly unencumbered by life’s hardships.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who are able to take their difficult life situations and turn them into growth opportunities. Many people who become better in life as a result of an obstacle were able to connect with the right resources to overcome their challenges.
How can families benefit from the EAP Program?
Families can access the same benefit that the players can. Family members in the same household get the 8 counseling sessions in addition to the other service lines offered in the EAP.
What are some red flags, warning signs or early indicators that players or families can watch for as they relate to mental health?
Some warning signs that would indicate that a person is out of balance emotionally may include:
• chronic fatigue
• a loss of appetite
• hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
• hyposomnia (not sleeping enough)
• and many more
I always encourage people to be “self-aware.” I’ve learned that an individual can sometimes be the best indicator of what’s wrong in their life. However, we do need other people in our lives to give the collateral information needed to help identify when things are going well or not. Paying attention to any “atypical behavior” in a friend or family member is important. If a person is not being their “typical self”, it can mean that something is out of place in their life.
What can a player who is facing challenges do?
Players facing challenges should try to engage resources as “early on” as possible in their hardship. Like most physical conditions, early detection of a hardship is important in order to mitigate the long term effects.
I would recommend reaching out to our advocates with Cigna 866-421-8628 and also touching base with trusted friends, coaches and family, as well as their Trust Program Manager (if they have one). The key to working through hard emotional places is support.
I think we also need to stress the importance of cultural resources that can be helpful, like prayer, church attendance and other person-specific resources that hold validity in one’s life.
What else should a player know about this benefit?
Overall, players need services that are culturally competent for what they are facing. At Cigna we want to provide them with the much needed resources to overcome the hard places in their life and we look forward to more positive outcomes in this space.
Gabriel Rogers, PhD, LPCS, is a Health Services Senior Specialist at Cigna. Click here for more information about the Cigna EAP Program.