Although the stigma surrounding mental health and sports is significant, there are numerous professional athletes who have taken initiative to reduce the stigma by speaking up about their personal struggles with mental health. Not only have athletes begun to publicly express their individual experiences with mental health, many of them have also become advocates for the issue and are inspiring others to seek the help they may need. The following athletes are great examples of leaders who have utilized their platform to spread awareness about a topic that goes beyond the surface level of sports.
Hayden Hurst (NFL)
NFL player, Hayden Hurst, shared his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. Both his uncle and cousin committed suicide when he was young, and at one point, Hurst attempted suicide himself. After seeking the help of a psychiatrist, Hurst began his journey to healing. Hurst told ESPN that the best recommendation he received was to start journaling; this technique made a big difference in his life!
Hayden has been a huge advocate for mental health and has raised more than $45,000 for various mental health programs in schools. Hurst also created the Hayden Hurst Foundation in 2018 to promote suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
Aly Raisman (GYMNASTICS)
Olympic gymnast, Aly Raisman, opened up about her anxiety and how she is working to overcome past traumas. Raisman was one of many gymnasts who suffered the abuse of Larry Nassar, the former U.S. Women’s National Team doctor. Aly Raisman stood up against Nassar in 2018, testifying in court along with numerous other victims. Nassar was sentenced to life in prison for assault of minors and the possession of child pornography, however Raisman and the other victims will forever live with the effects of his actions. Aly’s strength and courage to speak up is an inspiration to many and she continues to advocate for others to use their voice and take care of their mental health.
DeMar DeRozan & Kevin Love (NBA)
Current basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs, DeMar DeRozan, was one of the first players in the NBA to speak up about his struggles with anxiety and depression. This brought about a chain reaction, inspiring Kevin Love from the Cleveland Cavaliers to open up about his struggles with mental health and the panic attack he suffered during a game. Both DeRozan and Love’s stories sparked conversation, leading the NBA to release a statement of mental health resources as well as initiating efforts to implement mental wellness programming for thousands of youth. In addition, Love started his own Kevin Love Foundation, aiming to continue breaking the stigma of mental health and promote both physical and emotional wellness.
Skylar Diggins Smith (WNBA)
WNBA athlete, Skylar Diggins Smith, was very vocal about her struggles with postpartum depression. She sat out during the Dallas Wings’ 2019 season, to spend some time with her newborn son and work on her mental health. This sparked changes within the WNBA to bring about better protections for pregnant players and new mothers. Her persistence in caring for her mental health is an inspiration to all athletes and mothers!
All of these athletes are incredible examples of brave leaders who are willing to utilize their platform to speak about issues larger than sports. By sharing their personal struggles with mental health, it shows others that they are not alone and encourages them to seek help. You truly never know what others are going through in their personal lives and mental health continues to be an issue for people of all races, genders, and professions.
*If you or someone you know are struggling with mental health, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24hr crisis center or call 911 if you are fearing for someone’s safety or life*