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#JamesDonaldson on #MentalHealth – Breaking The Toxic Combination Of #Sports And #MentalHealth

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By Karl Ludwig

It would not be a stretch to call 2020 one of the hardest years, collectively, for #Americans in recent memory. Aside from the obvious with #COVID-19 lockdowns and the more than 190,000 deaths (as it stands), racial tensions are at the highest level since the Civil Rights era, the sky above San Francisco is a smoggy orange and it seems like every month brings about new tragedy and hardship.

#Mentalhealth in #America is at an all-time low, with countless factors attributing to #depression, #anxiety, #stress and suicidal tendencies among #Americans at every age group. According to the #NationalAllianceonMentalIllness, 1 in 5 #Americans suffer from #mentalillness, 1 in 25 #Americans suffer from severe #mentalillness, and #suicide is the second leading cause of death among #Americans aged 10-34.

#Mentalhealth in #sports especially still is not taken as seriously as needed, evidenced just Thursday (on #NationalSuicidePreventionDay no less) by television #sports personality #SkipBayless. Bayless would go on to essentially call #DallasCowboys’ quarterback #DakPrescott weak for opening up about his #mentalhealthstruggles during quarantine after the loss of his brother to #suicide. It was that exact kind of ignorance that needs to be eliminated from the world of #sports.

The #stigma around #student-athletes in #sports, especially #men, and their #mentalhealth is so toxic, so overtly ignored, that, according to Athletes for Hope, “with young adults, especially college athletes, the statistics are startling: 33% of all college students experience significant symptoms of #depression, #anxiety or other #mentalhealthconditions. Among that group, 30% seek help. But of college #athletes with #mentalhealthconditions, only 10% do.”

The fight against #mentalillness among all people but especially #student-athletes is going to be just that: a fight.

#JamesDonaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

The #coronavirus #pandemic has been hard enough on the #American people, people across the globe, without factoring in outside stressors. For Slippery Rock club hockey head coach Dave Grimm, aside from being unable to interact with the #student-athletes that he has grown so close to during his four years as head coach, Grimm is a full-time parent to two small #children and spends the rest of his time as a registered #nurse to help fight the #pandemic.

The dog days of the quarantine for Grimm, between working full-time at the hospital and juggling his two- and four-year-old sons, were a tough time. If he was not at work, Grimm said his #boys really knew how to keep him busy. It was overtime most of the time.

When the weather was not ideal, he had to deal with two young #kids literally bouncing off the walls.

The transition from just living a normal, pre-#pandemic life (remember those days? yeah, me neither) to having to quarantine for weeks at a time was hard for the boys to understand.

“My four-year-old was playing hockey and all of the sudden, no more hockey practice, can’t even go to the playground,” Grimm said. “And he doesn’t understand, you try to explain to him, and he’s like, ‘dad, I have hockey tonight.’ It’s like, ‘no, bud. There are germs out there, so we can’t play hockey.’”

Okay, so the rinks in the #UnitedStates are not open. Let us just go to Russia to play hockey, right? At least, that makes perfect sense to a four-year-old. It just does not quite work out that way. The two-year-old at least did not really get the situation at all.

Aside from entertaining the boys, Grimm spent the rest of his time working as a nurse, which is almost where this story of #mentalhealthawareness truly begins.

After graduating from Slippery Rock University in 2007 with a degree in exercise science, having played all four years on the SRU club hockey team, Grimm fulfilled his military obligation by serving on active duty as an officer in the US Army.

Grimm entered the Army as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were reaching their peaks, he said, and he truly became aware of the importance of #mentalhealth during that time.

“Being a #nurse, we were getting a lot of folks back who had spent time in [the] war zone, and we were starting to see the #PTSD, the #depression and the #anxiety,” Grimm said.

The #men and #women Grimm served with, in high-pressure war zones in the Middle East, were expected to show no signs of #depression or #anxiety; they were soldiers and acting as such was the mentality.

“When [my fellow soldiers’] #mentalhealth went, the physical health went with it,” Grimm said. “There didn’t seem to be enough resources to go around.”

The transition to civilian life for Grimm was hard because, although he looked forward to getting out, the bonds — or lack thereof — with his fellow servicemen and women led to a lot of downtime. It wasn’t hard for #depression to set in.

“I had seen enough people struggle with [#depression] that I was able to notice the changes in myself, notice the path I was on,” Grimm said.

While Grimm said he would not say he was not afraid to reach out for help, he knew he needed to talk to someone. The threat of spiraling was too much. He stressed how important it is to admit that you do not feel yourself, that you feel down.

“[Having #mentalhealthissues] does not mean you are mentally weak,” Grimm said. “It’s a physical thing, there’s a chemical imbalance; sometimes you need medication, sometimes you need therapy. But one way or the other, you do need help.”

Grimm said sometimes while dealing with #mentalhealthproblems, there seems to be something missing. In Grimm’s case now, that rings louder than ever.

“Personally, I had two friends commit #suicide not long after they had deployed,” Grimm said. “And you’d never know from [outward looks], they never mentioned they were having a problem; they never reached out and said they were struggling.”

In the wake of such tragedies, Grimm said many questions immediately spring to mind. But a lot of times, in these two cases, those people hide it so well, too well.

“My one friend, he was probably one of the most outgoing — he was definitely the funniest — guys I’ve ever been around,” Grimm said. “He was always light-hearted, always quick with a joke and everybody loved being around him. You would have never thought there was anything wrong.”

All too often, it is the ones you would never expect that you need to worry about.

In 2016, Grimm assumed an assistant coaching position with the Slippery Rock club hockey team, before ascending to head coach the next year. Grimm has served as the head coach since 2017, a decade since last playing a game for SRU.

Having been around the team for roughly five years now, after being away from the team for nearly a decade, Grimm has tried to provide a space to his #student-athletes where they are able to come to him or assistant coaches if they do not feel comfortable talking to anyone else. That means topics like struggling in the classroom, feeling overextended in their lives or having a hard time with #depression or #anxiety.

“I was happy they were comfortable enough to come to me, and say, ‘Hey coach, I’m having a rough time with this, this and this,’” Grimm said. “That’s one of the big things we try to promote early on when we recruit #student-athletes, when we get into the first couple weeks, it’s okay to not feel ok, and when you’re getting like that, our door is open 24/7.”

While that first interaction might be one-on-one, purely coach and #student-athlete, Grimm said if someone needs further help, he will get them the resources that they need.

Part of the #stigma, in Grimm’s eyes, lies in just playing a major contact sport — football or hockey — where everything is 100 miles an hour and physicality is demanded. Grimm said no one wants to be looked at as being “weak.”

“Just because you’re having some #depression, some #anxiety, it’s alright,” Grimm said. “A lot of people have those problems, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. We see it on the ice, we see it in the gym, we know you’re not weak. You’re just having a hard time.”

Sometimes, it is not just the fear of looking weak, it is the fear of having playing time slashed from speaking about how they’re feeling.

“We’ve had players in the past who didn’t want to say anything because they were afraid that — not while I was the head coach, while I was the assistant coach — it was going to impact their ice time and didn’t want to say anything,” Grimm said.

At the end of the day, Grimm and the rest of Rock hockey simply want their #student-athletes to be successful. Physically, mentally and all-around healthy.

Grimm said that if you are struggling, please do not hide it. No one will think anything less of you for speaking out.

Outside of Slippery Rock, Grimm has gotten involved with the It’s About the Warrior Foundation, a non-profit which assists post 9/11 veterans. President Steve Monteleone is a Butler High School and Slippery Rock University graduate himself.

“[Monteleone] started it for veterans who served and want to stay active in the community and have that bond,” Grimm said. “But the main purpose is to help those who got out [of the service] with physical or #mentalissues.”

The Foundation offers many opportunities to its members, such as physical therapy with  Thomas Burnett and therapy/counseling through Sanderson Psychological. The IAWF also offers outreach through #sports and outdoor/hunting programs.

“We do a charity outing once a year, it’s usually Memorial Day, and that’s to benefit the families of fallen #policeofficers, raise money for scholarships for their kids and to help their families out and help their families get through tough times,” Grimm said. “That organization has done a lot, so it’s been nice to be involved in that.”

In response to the #mentalhealthcrisis which has struck Slippery Rock too many times in the past couple of years, the university has upped its response with town hall meetings, commissions on #mentalhealth and new opportunities to reach out for help. Grimm believes that the #socialmedia presence has allowed students to see the opportunities better than before.

“If you do need help, and you want to seek help, you need to know how to find it,” Grimm said.

Rock hockey has gotten wonderful support from Robert Ogoreuc, the team’s academic advisor and a Slippery Rock University professor of physical education, and his wife. With student-athletes in majors across SRU’s offerings, there are many professors offering support, but Grimm said the impact of Ogoreuc has been substantial.

Like any coach, Grimm had hoped to be back on campus this fall, finally getting back on the ice with his team. Circumstances outside of his control forced a stoppage of all varsity and club #sports at Slippery Rock this season, with many #student-athletes unable to truly return to campus.

Without organized hockey this fall, you can bet on Grimm being there for his #student-athletes — whether it is through Zoom or however he can be there.

If you have an interest in joining the It’s About the Warrior Foundation, you can check out its membership page here

Karl Ludwig
Karl Ludwig

Karl is a senior sport management major and communication minor entering his fifth semester on The Rocket staff. He will serve as the #sports editor after previously serving as the assistant #sports editor. During his time with The Rocket, he has covered every #sport that SRU has to offer, and with the lack of #sports this coming semester, he is looking forward to finding alternative ways to deliver #sports news to the SRU community. After graduation, he hopes to work in the #sports writing field.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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