May 17, 2018
Athletes Address Mental Health

A soccer player and a gymnast at Oregon State University have created a campaign to bring awareness to student-athlete mental health. Officially launched in January, #DamWorthIt is using the sport platform to get people talking about the issue.

An article in the NCAA’s Champion Magazine explains that the idea for the campaign came after two Oregon State student-athletes, Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci, both lost teammates to suicide.

“We don’t want this sort of thing to happen again on our campus or anywhere else,” Braaten says. “So we decided to do something about it.”

Braaten and Ricci received funding for the #DamWorthIt campaign through the NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program. Along with the grant, Braaten and Ricci attended the three-day APPLE Institute event that trains athletics administrators, student-athletes, and others on health promotion and substance abuse prevention among student-athletes.

“The three main components of our campaign are the education piece, the resource piece and then the awareness and comfort piece,” Ricci said.

Other Oregon State student-athletes have joined the campaign, with six to eight volunteers typically stationed at an informational booth during sporting events. The group has also developed a promotional video that plays during events. In addition, Oregon State’s counseling and services outreach team often sets up a booth right next to #DamWorthIt to share information about mental health, as well as resources that are available locally and nationally.

“We really want every school to have something like the demo campaign, where they can encourage a culture of mental health,” Braaten said.

For university staff and faculty, encouraging student-athletes to ask for help and support is a good step. But according to Bonnie Hemrick, MPH, Mental Health Promotion Specialist at Oregon State, #DamWorthIt’s message has more clout with student-athletes because it comes from peers. Her role is to help the group share stories safely and keep an eye out for teammates who may be struggling.

“Nathan, Taylor and other student-athletes who have shared their voice for the campaign are openly and directly addressing mental health so that others can feel comfortable following their lead,” Hemrick said.

Image by Oregon State University.

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