Defending mental wellness for student athletes tackling high expectations

High-school athletics can be a launch pad that can help students prepare for life. However, the love for the game, tackling personal goals and high expectations can provoke anxiety and depression.

To help student athletes cope with stress on or off the playing field, Dream the Impossible huddled together 20 high-school athletes to talk about mental wellness.

“Even though they may not be suffering today, there is always going to be a time where their friends or teammates may be going through something. Knowing how to recognize that, being there and referring them to go get help or talk to somebody,” said Doug Middleton, founder of Dream the Impossible.

Dream the Impossible was selected to be highlighted as part of the NFL program “My Cause My Cleats.” Carolina Panthers player Justin Burris chose Dream the Impossible to support his passion beyond the game of football.

Players have the opportunity to pick a cause that is important to them and represent their chosen organization on custom designed cleats.

The Dream the Impossible program placed the student in an intimate setting with often raw conversations about anxiety, depression and suicide.

Middleton and his team of counselors and volunteers brought together a strong defense of assistance.

“I want these young men to know that mental health is just as important as their physical health,” Middleton said. “So we are very thankful for the opportunity Justin Burris has given us to not only bring more attention to Dream the Impossible, but more importantly towards mental health and helping out student athletes.”

Over 2.5 million youths in the U.S. have severe depression, and multiracial youths are at the greatest risk. Over 60% of youths with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment at all.

One of the attending students was Butler High School football player Jadyn Coleman who recognizes the stressors put on young people.

“We often put too much pressure on ourselves and expect too much of ourselves,” Coleman said. “We need to realize that we’re kids. We need to relax and live our life as kids.”

Many young athletes are now discussing their mental health for the first time.

Some athletes are conditioned to act tough and hide their emotions. Because of that tendency, the stigma of depression or anxiety can be heightened.

Middleton is trying to change that culture.

“There’s a lot of people out here doing a lot of good work in this space,” Middleton said. “We’re doing our part helping these guys address their challenges.”

Making sure the athletes continue to talk about their mental wellness was prominently acknowledged and discussed.

“We will continue to help them understand the conditions they are facing and help them to live a prosperous life through whatever adversity they encounter,” Middleton said.

It seems that the message was received.

“Nothing can replace friendship. Nothing can replace family. Just having someone there for you to talk to and share that experience. It always brings a joy to my face,” Coleman said.

“In order to dream, you have to visualize and that’s what we plan on doing for the kids, providing them with an opportunity to dream,” Middleton said.

After the game the kids stayed back to meet Juston Burris and his Carolina Panthers teammates.

Dream the Impossible, Inc. is a nonprofit, mental health awareness organization that was formed to reverse the rates of death by suicide, especially in the Black community.

Mental health is an epidemic that is affecting one in four people around the world.

Channel 9 is committed to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and offering real solutions.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE WSOC-TV COUNTY-BY-COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCE GUIDE.

If you have an inspiring story, please contact Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.t Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.