By: Cullen McIntyre, Sports Editor
The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in partnership with University Health Services, USM Veteran Services, and the Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC) hosted Knockout the Stigma on World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2019.
The event included speeches by junior Women’s Soccer athlete and social work major Megan Chase, ROCC senior peer Elliot Day, and Dr. Erin Hatch of University Health Services. Following the speeches was a game of knockout for the students who attended the event.
Kicking things off with an introduction from SAAC advisor and Women’s Basketball Coach Samantha Allen, who then introduced Chase to speak. The speech included a compelling story about her close friend that had committed suicide and her struggles with mental health as a student-athlete. She also touched upon the importance of checking in and being there for others, “The way that we can treat others, and the way that we can recognize that stuff and really break the stigma of checking in and talking about our feeling, as well as letting people know it’s okay to not be okay,” she said.
Chase also spoke to the importance of being able to speak about such an important topic in front of her peers, “It is so important to me. I’ve been thinking about this since the event last year when I heard Johnny Kyte (senior hospitality major on the Men’s Ice Hockey team) give a speech. He had a really powerful speech and I’ve just wanted to share my experiences ever since,” she said.
The stories of her friends that she lost struck a cord with the students in attendance, as silence fell over the gym. Chase’s ability to stand in front of her peers and tell her story hoped to give her peers the same power: “I think it’s important to be able to talk openly about that kind of stuff in front of a group because if you can’t talk about it, then you can’t talk about your own feelings. Showing people I’m vulnerable, I’m up there, I can talk about this, is pretty important because they can see that if I can do it they can do it too” she said.
Day’s speech followed, speaking about his own experiences with mental health and breaking the stigma. He spoke about the importance of the event and being able to speak, “I think it’s important for the ROCC to put on the Knockout the Stigma event. I like to speak about these things from my experiences. Attending a different university, as a person in recovery, and feeling pretty uncomfortable being able to talk about the struggles I had. At least a piece of that had to do with the stigma that I, and I think a lot of people had, surrounding it,” he said.
The ROCC in collaboration with each organization hoped to show students that they can speak about their experiences. Day spoke about the importance of holding the event, “I think that having an event like this and as much awareness towards the stigma because one of the things it does is that it brings awareness to the impact stigma has on people that might be suffering from mental illness or addictions. It also places the university as a safer space where people feel like they might not be facing those stigmas.”
The event brought awareness to students by giving them firsthand experience through their peers speaking, as well as hearing from officials like coach Allen and Dr. Hatch. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students in America, and the university hopes to continue to fight against that with events such as Knockout the Stigma.
Past events have included Spike the Stigma, and Kick the Stigma, volleyball and kickball games that also included speeches by student-athletes that shared their stories of mental health. The SAAC has made an effort to bring awareness to the stigma on mental health: “Our goal as USM’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is to facilitate educational opportunities for students about the resources available on campus and in the surrounding communities with a fun activity,” said Allen. “It’s time that we break the stigma of mental health, and embrace the power of positive messaging in how we think, speak, and act.”
Knockout, as Allen explained, is a friendly adrenaline boosting game amongst peers. The first player in line shoots and tries to make a basket before the person behind them makes their shot. The game brought students together to compete in a healthy way, showing support for each other whether they won or they lost.
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