In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated(December 17-24,2018), I read an article about the mental health struggles of two student athletes who attend Oregon State University. One, a male soccer player, and the other a female gymnast, met and began a conversation that gave birth to a mental health support organization called #DamWorthIt. The focus of #DamWorthIt is on helping to end the stigma that so often accompanies mental health issues, and providing resources for student athletes who need help coping with the myriad of pressures with which they are faced. As a result of sunrise training sessions, classes, and studying, student athletes find themselves overwhelmed with the demands of their lives. Depression among college athletes is well documented, with a recent survey performed by Psychology Today noting that “6.3% of student athletes met the criteria for ‘significant’ depression.”
The soccer player, Nathan Braaten, and the gymnast, Taylor Ricci, with the support of the athletic department of Oregon State University, began telling their stories through documentaries and openly discussing their own mental health struggles. In addition to these efforts, Braaten and Ricci, through #DamWorthIt, developed a survey that is administered by Oregon State University and that assesses the mental health and well-being of incoming freshman athletes. Programs have been put in place and resources are available to help those students who are having mental health problems. As a result, the mental health programs are now being treated no differently than the tutoring programs available to help student athletes who are having academic problems.
In order to raise awareness of the #DamWorthIt program, the oganization is giving out bracelets at all home athletic events. The bracelets either say “#DamWorthIt” or “Mental Health, End the Stigma”. So far, in less than a year, they have given away 5,000 bracelets, and word is spreading about the program. I can’t help but believe that word of the program will filter down to non-athlete students who will also be touched by the essence of this extraoridinary program.
On top of the positive steps that are now occurring as a result of the Braaten and Ricci efforts, the Pac-12 conference has approved #DamWorthIt for a $60,000 Student-Athlete Health & Well-Being grant. It is the first such grant awarded to a student-run organization, and Braaten and Ricci plan to conduct seminars at every Pac-12 school this year with the aim of educating the athletes about the resources available to them to help provide mental health well-being. It is readily accepted that if a student athlete tears a ligament he/she sees a doctor, and Braaten and Ricci want it to become second nature for any athelte who is having emotional issues to go seek help as well.
If you have a mental health issue, please seek help. Share your stories with your peers. Let others know that you have suffered and conquered a mental health challenge. Listen to the stories of others. And most important, keep talking.