Note: this article originally published at TeamEmbrace.net
(Hyde Park, IL)
On June 10, the Good Athlete Project hosted its annual Team Embrace 5k. The event raises funds and awareness for out Mental Health initiatives; specifically, the team and professional development workshops we host, which are focused on embracing the conversation of mental health in athletics.
The following is a transcript, with subtle edits for readability, from the opening address given by G.A.P. Director, Jim Davis.
“[Team Embrace] might be our number one initiative right now. People are coming to us regularly for coach education team workshops and things of that nature. The rising mental health issue – I’ll call it a crisis – is on everyone’s mind. Approximately 33% of teens at any given moment are struggling with a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Approximately one in five, about 20%, are at any given time in the midst of a major depressive disorder, one in five…
it’s pretty startling to think that every time you enter a high school, or talk to a sports team, one in five of those kids is really struggling. And all suggestions, all statistics, point to the idea that that number is rising.
There’s a combination of things going on. I won’t diagnose it right now, but I do think lifestyle and health and wellness can play a major role in prevention and, and hopefully alleviating part of that concern. But what we do primarily is provide coach education around the idea. So put this in the back of your mind, take it home with you, pass it off to someone you might know.
We use what’s called the PEC approach. The P is for Prevention. Sports obviously offer an incredible opportunity, whether it’s through health and wellness, or being part of a community that shares a purpose to prevent mental health concerns. Prevent is a really essential word, and I’ll return to it in a minute.
All of the numbers around suicide and suicidal ideation are pretty directly aligned with isolation. Getting people involved in organized sport might play a role in connecting people with the community and getting in front of things. We probably can’t know that conclusively. It’s a no news is good news sort of situation. But it’s certainly the numbers do align.
Level two is E, that’s Embrace the conversation, and this is the thing that we try to do with coaches. We try to reduce the stigma around mental health.
In fact, if you talk to an athlete, they don’t talk about physical health when they’re weak or slow or injured. They talk about maintaining a state of physical health. You don’t start lifting weights once you’re feeling weak. You lift weights to stay strong. You don’t run once you’re feeling just terribly out of shape… you run or do CrossFit, or whatever it might be to stay fit, right, to stay healthy.
So one way that we try to change the conversation of mental health is not thinking of it purely as an intervention. It doesn’t arrive on the scene once things go wrong. It’s just part of who we are, and we have an opportunity, as coaches and educators, to talk about that in a variety of ways.
“You don’t just run when you’re feeling out of shape, you run to stay fit, to stay healthy. #MentalHealth is the same. It is not purely an intervention. It’s not just for when things go wrong. It’s part of who we are.”Tweet
When you talk about helping someone combat nerves before competition, you’re talking about mental health. When you’re talking about how to have complicated conversations on a basketball team, you’re talking in part about mental health. In fact, I’ll tell a quick story about a member of our staff.
We finished a meeting and a member of our staff said, I gotta go work out. That’s what he said. And another member of our staff said, you don’t have to work out, just look at you.
This person happens to be jacked. No, it’s not me. They said, look at you man, you don’t have to work out. And his response was so clarifying. It was, well, I don’t have to work out, because I work out. Right?
So being in the routine of prioritizing physical health, I would suggest also mental health, is the way to get ahead of a lot of concerns.
Finally, the C in the PEC model is Connect. There is the component of this work, like I mentioned, that includes taking people out of isolation, connecting to other people and to a community. And that is super important.
But one thing that I’ve recognized through these workshops is that people who are tasked with embracing this conversation and having it often reference the idea that they don’t know how to do it. They say, I don’t know where to go or the right things to say. Connect is also for the educator. And it’s essentially taking some of the load off one’s back and saying, when the conversation or the issue becomes outside of your skillset, moves outside your skillset, look at the local inventory, who are the social workers, therapists, and help lines? You don’t have to do it all on your own. But you should connect people to further support.
We remind coaches that they don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t have to get it absolutely right. You do have to open up the conversation, prevent concerns where possible, and connect people with resources as needed.
It’s a process that’s been pretty effective. Today, we are raising funds and awareness for that effort.
Could you give one more final round of applause for yourselves for being here? I think this conversation moves in waves. We’re making waves today, and you all are the ones moving the initiative forward.”