Boise State starts mental health initiative #BroncoBOLD

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In 2018, Boise State hosted the Global Mental Health Alliance event “We’re All A Little Crazy” to discuss how mental health can affect student-athletes, opening the dialogue that it’s OK not to be OK. This helped inspire Boise State to create their mental health initiative, #BroncoBOLD.

“[The initiative] came from just wanting to continue the whole idea of starting a conversation,” said mental health specialist Stephanie Donaldson. “And the student-athletes (wanted to) come together and use sport as a platform to talk about destigmatizing mental health, raise awareness and also use a strength-based approach.” 

The initiative hopes to encompass everything Boise State athletics is doing for the mental health of its staff, student-athletes and coaches. #BroncoBOLD mission statement has three pillars  meant to exemplify what it’s all about; reduce stigma, raise awareness and cultivate resiliency. 

#BroncoBOLD Week kicked off the initiative on Sept. 9 and wrapped on Sept. 13 during halftime of Boise State’s football game. The week consisted of different social media posts and videos introducing #BroncoBOLD and addressing mental illness with a plan to keep the conversation going. 

“Each month, (we want to) do things like do meetings, raising awareness to mental health and to try and be able to keep it going throughout the whole year,” said student-athlete Ellie Woerner. “So it’s not just one event each semester, it’s something that’s addressed each month, and that we keep raising awareness the whole school year instead of just a couple times a year.”

Currently, #BroncoBOLD has a committee of seven members, led by Donaldson. Anyone in athletics can be a part of #BroncoBOLD, and since initiative week, the committee has been spreading the word to add more members to their committee.

“(We put) all the stuff on social media; a lot of student-athletes were retweeting and stuff,” said student-athlete Derrick Alston. “No one’s reached out, personally, to me on where to go (to join the committee), but I’ve given a lot of information out to like my teammates and other teams on where to go.”

Alston discussed how the stigma that athletes should be “tough” makes a mental health initiative like this especially important. 

“I feel like it’s a tough subject to speak on,” Alston said. “Especially for athletes, having to kind of maintain a certain image of (being) tough and people who just work all the time, and (#BroncoBOLD is) just emphasizing that mental health is just as important as your physical health. So I think that’s the big thing that through #BroncoBOLD we’ve been able to do.”

Several other universities have started their own mental health initiatives for their student-athletes, such as Oregon State’s #DamnWorthIt, but Boise State has made their initiative unique. They have a sports therapy dog named Jett who, to Donaldson’s knowledge, is the only sports therapy dog in the nation. This campaign, unlike some others that follow the same narrative as #BroncoBOLD, is intended to last longer than only one week. 

“It’s making it continue throughout the year and the years to come,” Donaldson said. “I think that’s where sometimes you see people start programs, but then it doesn’t continue after the dedicated event. So I think that’s one piece that will be unique to #BroncoBOLD is continuing it throughout the years.”

Right now, the #BroncoBOLD committee only includes student-athletes and members of the athletic department, but future plans aim to be more widespread; Donaldson and the committee hope to turn #BroncoBOLD into a campus-wide initiative. So far, they have met with the Sources of Strength, which is the campus suicide prevention program. Donaldson is hoping to do collaborations with Sources of Strengths and have parts of #BroncoBOLD reach the main campus. 

“[Mental health is] not just an athlete problem, (the initiative) is for everyone on campus,” Woerner said. “If we can spread it to the whole campus and not just the athletic department that’s probably the goal, to be able to incorporate the whole student body, and we’re just using sports as our platform to be able to use our voice.”

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