10 Athletes That Are Paving The Way For Conversations Around Mental Health

In recent years, we've seen several athletes speak out about their experiences with mental health and how it's affected their life on and off the playing field.

Mental health has obviously been a taboo topic in the past but when stardom and vulnerability clash, that inspires more dialogue to help remove the stigma.

Here are 10 athletes that are using their platform and story to eliminate the stigma around mental health in the athletic community:

  1. Hayden Hurst:
    Hurst was originally selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB draft. After struggling with performance anxiety, and getting knocked unconscious in a game, Hayden's baseball career fell apart which led him to start drinking heavily and experimenting with drugs. After a suicide attempt and endless hours of counseling trying to get back on track, he ultimately ended up going back to school as a walk-on tight-end for the  University of South Carolina. Since getting drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, Hurst has now been one of the most transparent athletes when it comes to mental health.  When he's not on the football field – he spends his time traveling the country, talking to kids about the importance of mental health, and bringing more to the subject awareness through his foundation.

  2. Brandon Marshall
    After being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in 2011, former All-Pro Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall has made a commitment to not only improving his own mental health but also educating others on how to do so. That same year, he and his wife Michi Marshall started a foundation called Project 375 which is dedicated to the education, support, and treatment of mental health. Currently, he is pushing that mission further through his latest venture, House of Athlete, an all-around wellness facility in Weston, Florida. He also is a co-host of the I AM ATHLETE podcast with NFL vets Fred Taylor, Channing Crowder, and Chad Ocho Cinco.

  3. Chamique Holdsclaw
    Chamique is one of the early advocators for mental health in sports. As the No. 1 pick for the Washington Mystics in the 1999 WNBA, that obviously came with high expectations. The player sometimes called “the female Michael Jordan” faced relentless anxiety and depression, which led to her first retirement in 2007. She came back to play and retired again in 2010, but has since been very own about her struggles. Both her courtside and mental health trials and triumphs are the focus of the 2015 documentary “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw," and she still often speaks to people worldwide about her journey.

  4. Imani McGee-Stafford
    As the sister of NBA Champion JaVale McGee and daughter of hoops legend Pamela McGee, it can be hard to create your own path as a professional athlete. But Imani has done that and much more. She experienced a lot growing up. She was sexually abused as a child, and that’s when the depression came in. At the age of 10, she attempted suicide, and that was not her only attempt. She attempted suicide two more times before she graduated from high school. Basketball helped her overcome her depression and told her story for the first time as a freshman at the University of Texas. Aside from basketball, she's also published a poetry book and started her own foundation. Currently, she is putting her WNBA career on hold as she's pursuing her law degree.

  5. Keyon Dooling
    A former 11-year NBA vet, Keyon Dooling has transitioned into becoming a public speaker and advocate for mental health. As a child, he was sexually assaulted and going through that experience haunted him all the way until his final years in the league where he started to experience paranoia, delusions, and PTSD all of which eventually landed him in a mental institution. After years of therapy, recovery, self-reflection, and work – he now owns his past and encourages others to face their traumas and get help if needed.

  6. Kevin Love
    If you're an NBA fan then you've probably heard Kevin Love's story about his struggles with mental health. In 2018, he published a lengthy piece on The Players' Tribune about how he suffers from anxiety and depression which went viral. He received thousands of responses and emails for this article. Since then, he's been an advisor to mental health startup gym, has hosted conversations and panels around the topic, and has established his own foundation to inspire people to live their healthiest lives while providing the tools to achieve physical & emotional well-being.

  7. Liz Cambage
    “DNP - Mental Health." Australian basketball star Liz Cambage revealed she was on suicide watch in 2016 and talks often about her struggles with depression and anxiety. She also talks about how she took a "DNP-Rest" for a WNBA game in which she experienced a panic attack minutes before it started. "I found an empty hallway outside the locker room, still in my uniform, and started to panic. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't stop crying. I was having the most uncontrollable anxiety attack — a full-on breakdown." Cambage said the catalyst for the breakdown was the hospitalization of her grandmother and the recent end of her long-term relationship. Since these events, Liz has been extremely open and vulnerable about her life and also the fact that she takes medication to help manage her mental health.

  8. Kayla McBride
    When the world stopped during COVID, Kayal McBride lost herself. Up until then, she didn't realize how much basketball and playing in the WNBA had carried her along. Due to the isolation, she fell apart and into depression. She stated, “There were days when I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to work out. I didn’t want to train. I didn’t want to be around anything or anybody. I couldn’t shut off the fact that I didn’t feel O.K.” Now, she realizes that it's ok to not be ok. We all go through ups and downs in life, and Kayla is taking on the role to ensure other people understand that.

  9. Darius Leonard
    Growing up Darius was one of nine children raised by a single mother in Lake View, South Carolina. Life was hard, but what got him through many of those childhood trials was his relationship with his brother Keivonte. During Keivonte's freshman year at Benedict College on a basketball scholarship, he had come home for Thanksgiving break and went out with some friends. That same night Darius got a call that his brother had been knocked unconscious after getting into a fight at the club. He died the next day. Since that day Darius has had extreme success on the football field, getting drafted to the Colts, winning DROY, and becoming an All-Pro linebacker after just two seasons. But he's also had to deal with the hardship of not having his brother around and the depression and anxiety that comes along with that. He's been very outspoken about this story and has even been a catalyst for ensuring the NFL takes player's mental health seriously.

  10. Connor Carrick
    Mental health isn't as prevalent of a topic in the NHL as it is in some other sports, but Connor Carrick is aiming to change that narrative. What's unique about his story is that he hasn't been diagnosed with any disorder. He’s never dealt with any post-traumatic issues or struggled with depression. Life has been pretty good for him.

    But there are still times when Carrick feels down. He’s experienced performance anxiety, looked at depth charts, and been discouraged and he’s been injured and felt like his career was slipping away. He recognizes his influence and the platform he has and wants to inspire his 50,000 + followers on social media through his #MentalHealthMonday posts. He understands the importance of mental health and is doing his part to erase the stigma.

These athletes might have notoriety and attention around their advocacy, but they are far from the only athletes who are making a difference. There are plenty of others who might not get the same recognition when it comes to mental health but are still impacting lives nonetheless.

What we all have to realize is that mental health applies to everyone. We are all fighting a battle that others can't see unless we say something.

Athletes are no exception to this and the more we're able to express our truths – the more we can create safe spaces to learn and heal.

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