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Ryan Day, OSU working to end the stigma surrounding mental health

An increasing number of athletes have spoken about their struggles with mental health, and Ryan Day is one of the few coaches that has come out and advocated for change.

Ohio State Spring Game Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Mental health as a topic has been clouded in stigma for a long time, especially in the sports world, where some of the most talented and physically strong men and women are expected to be 100%, 100% of the time. Historically, they have never been encouraged to talk about their struggles with anxiety, depression, or overall just not feeling like themselves.

While more and more athletes are opening up about their battles with mental health — Kevin Love, Dak Prescott, and most recently Naomi Osaka — there is still so much more work to be done by those working in sports, in order to create a safe, supportive environment, so that athletes feel comfortable speaking out and getting the help they need. This issue hits close to home at Ohio State, as head football coach Ryan Day has placed an emphasis on taking care of athletes’ mental health.

Day wants to make sure that his players are always supported in their mental health journeys. This is a personal issue for him — his father died by suicide when Day was only nine years old. Therefore, he wants to spark the conversation about destigmatizing openly talking about mental health issues among young adults and kids.

His passion for advocating for youth mental health goes beyond the football field; he and his wife Nina partnered with On Our Sleeves, a movement from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, that focuses on transforming the conversation about childhood mental health. This collaboration led the Day family to start the Ryan and Christina Day Fund for Pediatric and Adolescent Mental Health Awareness.

When the Ohio State head football coach has a public press conference to speak about suicide and mental health, people are going to listen. Day announced his plans to advocate for mental health conversation before his first season in charge in Columbus. This isn’t something that is done very often, but when someone with as big of a profile as Day talks about something as taboo as mental health, it opens the door to conversations about it. The Day family has talked about it at home, they have people come up to them in their community, and Day has addressed it with his team.

In a recent statement posted on Twitter last month, which was Mental Health Awareness month, Day stated, “Something we talk to our team about all the time... having an awareness of your mental health at all times and plans for how to manage things.”

Day goes on to discuss the importance of perspective, staying present in the moment, and having a good support system around you.

Ohio State has four full time staff members in their sports psychology department to help struggling student-athletes. These professionals truly embed themselves into the athlete’s lives — practices, meetings, etc., so that they feel comfortable enough to come to them if they ever need help.

Ohio State’s sports psychologists want to focus on shifting from solely taking care of an athlete’s physical health, to holistically assisting them in their emotional and mental health as well. These efforts have now led to about 25% of Buckeye athletes to meet with a sports psychologist, according to the department’s head Jamey Houle, in an article on elevenwarriors.com.

It looks like Ohio State is doing everything that they can in order to support their student-athletes’ health in all aspects, especially following the pandemic. It is fantastic to see an increasing number of college athletic programs working towards destigmatizing the conversation surrounding mental health, and supporting their athletes in whatever way possible and necessary.

It is time for the ancient attitude of putting your head down and getting through life’s problems by yourself to be left in the past. The sports world certainly needs more Ryan Day’s — supportive coaches who are willing to work to make a change when it comes to the topic of mental health. We are grateful that he is a Buckeye!