Student-athletes get honest about their mental health

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Athletes are expected to be resilient, unbreakable and almost inhuman, especially when playing their sport. As a result, there has been a long-time negative stigma surrounding athletes discussing the condition of their mental health.

The Boise State Athletics Association was selected as one of 15 universities throughout the country to host a #SameHere sit-down on Sunday, Oct. 28, organized by the Global Health Alliance: We’re All a Little “Crazy.”

“This is an area that has grown by leaps and bounds. Ten, fifteen years ago, heck even five years ago, (mental health) wasn’t really addressed and talked about,” said Marc Paul, associate athletic director and head athletic trainer at Boise State. “Especially with this much publicity behind it. And now it’s becoming the thing to talk about and that’s a good thing.”

The #SameHere sit-down included former professional athletes, musicians, artists and members of the news media. They had honest conversations with student-athletes about their ongoing battles with mental health, what they do to deal with it and most importantly, told student-athletes that it is okay to not be okay and talk openly about their mental health.

Boise State hired Stephanie Donaldson, a mental health specialist, this past summer. Donaldson and the Broncos Athletic Association have aimed to start focusing on mental health and suicide prevention for student-athletes.

“I think first and foremost we were trying to open the topic and have conversation about mental health, and start openly talking about and struggles everyone goes through,” Donaldson said. “Talking about mental health as a continuum. At some point in your life whether personally or someone in you know, everyone struggles with mental health.”

The event featured a Q&A at the end of the presentation so that student-athletes could open up about what they are going through, or ask the former athletes questions about their own struggles.

“I wasn’t sure if people were going to ask questions and open up, but right way people started asking questions, and really powerful, moving things were talked about,” Donaldson said. “It was great to see athletes being humans, being vulnerable, talking about their struggles, how they can get help and what they can do.”

Since the event, the Bronco Athletic Association has already received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from both coaches and athletes.

Student-athletes are faced with immense amounts of pressure, from having to worry about practice and games, all the way to school, with many other things in between. All of the standards these athletes are held to can begin to take a toll on their mental health.

“It really makes you think about, ‘okay how am I going to deal with these pressures that I’m feeling,’ and if I’m going through it then that means that probably the rest of my student-athlete friends are as well,” said men’s basketball player redshirt senior David Wacker. “I’ve tried to have conversations where I really ask people how they are doing, instead of just assuming everyone is well. It was really important for me to be there last night.”

One of the main intentions of the #SameHere sit-down was to simply start a conversation and help student-athletes all over the country understand how important addressing their mental health is.

“The differentiating thing for all athletes at this level isn’t their physical ability. On the field the difference a lot of the time is your mental awareness, your ability to make correct decisions and your ability to handle the stress the games throw your way,” said women’s soccer player senior Addison Standlee. “For them to address that those are normal anxieties to have, and for them to give us tangible actions to apply to our lifestyles, I absolutely think we’ll see improvement of our performance on the field because of how we’re improving off the field mentally.”

Donaldson called the #SameHere event the “signature kickoff” to a year dedicated to mental health, where the Broncos Athletic Association plans on having more speakers, programs and athlete break-out sessions throughout the year to help student-athletes deal with mental health issues.

“Mental health is not just something that affects a small portion of the population,” Wacker said. “We all experience a lot of difficulties in life.”

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