whole being athlete Archives - Athletes for Hope

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AFH News

Kickoff Week: Celebrating the Whole Being Athlete

by Suzanne Potts, LMSW, MPH

So much of the world is in turmoil right now, from war in Ukraine, dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, continued racial and social injustices, and more. The sports world is evolving and growing, with pending pay disputes, gender equality discussions and battles over greater visibility for female athletes. It seems no one is escaping the stress of work, family or personal trauma and more athletes are addressing the important topic of mental health. 

The Whole Being Athlete Program (WBAP) was established last year to uplift and elevate athlete voices to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.The vision of the AFH’s Whole Being Athlete Program (WBAP) is to build a powerful mental health community that empowers athletes to share their stories to raise awareness, access, and acceptability of mental health resources, with a focus on underserved populations. We believe everyone has the power to own their story and that by sharing experiences, we can empower and encourage others to seek help as needed. 

On Monday, April 18, 2022, Athletes for Hope is proud to kick off a week of celebration and announce our first Whole Being Athlete Ambassadors as examples of professional, Olympic, Paralympic and student-athletes who courageously join the growing number of mental health advocates. We look forward to announcing them on Tuesday, April 19th. These amazing leaders will collaborate with AFH along this journey to tell their stories, highlight resources, and encourage others to bravely step forward as advocates for better mental health.

In May, with support of other mental health partners and advocates, Athletes for Hope will share advocacy opportunities, service activations, personal stories and resources around athlete mental health. We will feature a wide range of mental health organizations, along with elevating athlete voices and evidence-based data about why mental health is a growing concern for us all. Our hope is that by using our collective voices to speak openly and honestly, we can help reduce the stigmas around mental illness for all.

We encourage you to join us each week via our social media and engage in this crucial conversation that impacts us all. If you’d like to get involved with this work at Athletes for Hope, please let us know here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please call:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline

1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

M-F 10am-8pm Eastern


Whole Being Athlete Series

The Whole Being Athlete Series is a platform for athletes to share their stories about their own mental health journey. Please be advised the following article contains mental health content that may be triggering to some. If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M-F 10am-8pm Eastern or info@nami.org.

Why Mental Health Matters

by Mariah Parsons, Notre Dame Rowing ’21

I am beyond grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and woefully aware of how many people have helped me become better versions of myself every day. That being said, it hasn’t been a smooth process. There were days or even several months where I had no desire to go to practice, to class, to lift, to that party, to that interview, to that meeting. I really started to struggle maintaining my mental health sophomore year. We were doing selection work for competition when I broke my rib. My injury, along with challenges in my personal life, was the perfect storm to destroy my mental health.

I became frustrated with my own body and its inability to function without pain let alone perform at the collegiate level. It drove me to an internal scrutiny that I had never felt. I tore myself apart from all angles and refused to ask for help, mostly out of my own stubbornness and independence. But, I also felt the unspoken pressure to be gritty, tough, and to ‘dig deep’ and push back through it all. That’s what we do when racing, so that mentality of getting after it bled into all areas of my life. There was no mental relief from myself or the fact that I felt useless to my team. I felt I had gone from being at my strongest to my weakest and all it took was a millisecond snap of a rib. My perception was that the rehab I was doing wasn’t as important as the intense hard work my teammates were doing. I felt cast aside and forgotten about even though I was still present in the erg room. I felt alone and invisible in a room full of my teammates.

Those days still resurface every now and then and to this day I still regret being so stubborn for so long and not reaching out to a professional sports psychologist earlier. But, if it wasn’t for my teammates, I don’t think I would have ever felt better. A few of my teammates who had gone through or were going through similar situations took me under their wing and showed me the hope I’d lost. If you or someone you know is struggling in a similar way, my best advice would be to rely on your support system and that it’s okay to rely on them heavily. I used to think asking for help was weak, shameful, and selfish, but I’ve since learned asking for help welcomes a deeper relationship. Because of my own journey with mental health and my constant struggle to open up I have challenged myself to start a platform, called Learn 2 Listen, for anyone to share their story in an effort to end the stigma of silencing our mental health stories. Through this process of forcing myself to write and talk about my own struggles I have been embraced by family, friends, and strangers in a way that was a huge relief to me.

With any type of performance-based task, such as athletics, we have this notion that showing vulnerability is a weakness. We see in movies the superhero struggles to have loved ones because that is a vulnerability that the enemy can exploit, it becomes a weakness to show emotion and struggle. In athletics, there’s this unspoken acceptance from coaches and teammates that if we aren’t mentally strong, we are not as good of an athlete, but this should not be the case. We’re taught to push the pain away, to dig deep, and perform even when every muscle fiber is screaming to stop and every brain cell is on exhaust and to shut the emotions out. When an athlete hits a personal record and overcomes this physical challenge, we admire this accomplishment, but the same outlook is not mirrored when it comes to mental health.

This is what I hope will change as society opens up about our vulnerabilities, because we all have them. I hope we commend each other for their bravery and perseverance to work on their mental health and happiness. I hope we admire each other when we finally get to where we want to be in our life. I hope we change the narrative of mental health and instead of viewing these challenges as weakness, we admire the person’s effort to do their best each and every day.

AFH Announces Mental Health Initiative: The Whole Being Athlete

Please be advised the following article contains mental health content that may be triggering to some.

This past year has been incredibly challenging for everyone’s mental health. A recent survey by the CDC found rates of self reported behavioral health symptoms to be double what they would have been pre-pandemic including: symptoms of anxiety or depression, having started or increased substance use, stress-related symptoms, and having serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days.  

Athletes have not been immune to experiencing mental health struggles during the pandemic as an NCAA Student Athlete Well-Being Survey recently explored. The Survey found that student-athletes reported elevated rates of mental exhaustion, anxiety, hopelessness and feelings of depression. These rates were even more elevated in student-athletes of color, women, those on the queer spectrum, those living alone and those reporting financial hardship. 

Recent studies highlight the way that mental health symptoms for elite athletes may even be heightened compared to those in the general population yet the unfortunate fact remains that the stigma of getting support for mental health is just as strong. AFH has also heard from countless athletes across all levels and sports who are struggling with their mental health or who want to take action and support others. For that reason, we are excited to open spaces for athletes to share about their own mental health journeys and link athletes to resources for support. Athletes for Hope’s initiative is a layered approach, rooted in advocacy and resource sharing, all amplified on social media in order to support the “Whole Being Athlete.”

In response to the challenges faced over the past year in particular, Athletes for Hope is thrilled to announce the launch of an ongoing Mental Health Initiative created to support athletes wherever they are in their athletic journey and beyond. Beginning today, we’re kicking things off to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the next 31 days AFH will be sharing engaging resources, compelling athlete stories and various ways to get involved in order to stop the stigma around mental health. Join us by tuning in, connecting and activating around mental health awareness and action.

AFH is grateful to help share the mental health stories of some brave athletes to inspire and support athletes on their own mental health journeys. Each week we will feature blogs, social media events and connections from professional, Olympic, Paralympic and student-athletes. We invite others to share their stories or participate in our events throughout the month and believe there is power in telling, sharing and owning our own stories.

Advocacy efforts in May will focus activations and service opportunities that feature and elevate the work of AFH’s mental health partners. AFH will host weekly discussions on Instagram Live with mental health partners that will be focused on how to advocate for mental health. These partners include:

  • The Hidden Opponent
  • Alliance of Social Workers in Sports (ASWIS) 
  • The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) Sports Psychologist, Dr. Jessica Bartley
  • Danielle Berman of Tackle What’s Next

AFH will also offer resources every Friday during May to help athletes feel good during these challenging times including: Live yoga classes, guided meditation, and mindfulness exercises. Our “Feel Good Friday” sessions will elevate the positive examples of staying active and taking time for self care.

AFH is excited to contribute to the conversation around Mental Health by facilitating a discussion in front of 300 corporate executives about mental health as part of the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP), offering Trauma Informed Training with DocWayne internally and externally and hosting check-ins throughout the year for our AFH athlete and partner network.

It is AFH’s hope that through an ongoing and robust approach to athlete mental health well-being we can all work to end the stigma of mental illness and strengthen athletes who are struggling with their own. With Pride Month in June, trainings for AFH University (AFH U) student-athletes around disaster preparedness, 9/11 Day of Service and World Mental Health Day in October, AFH will have year-round opportunities to not only shine a light on mental health but also take an intersectional approach to ending this stigma and advocating for better mental health resources for athletes at all levels. We aim to uplift the Whole Being Athlete.

If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M-F 10am-8pm Eastern or info@nami.org.