WACO, Texas — Baylor University and Texas A&M University are among more than 100 schools nationwide that are recognizing College Football Mental Health Week.
Hilinski's Hope Foundation organizes the awareness week. It was founded by former Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski's parents, Kym and Mark, after he died by suicide in 2018.
"We had no idea that he was struggling," Kym told 25 News. "He was sweet and kind and good. We always say we think he would be proud of what we're doing."
To keep his memory alive, his family started Hilinski's Hope.
"We realize Tyler was struggling and there were no signs, we thought how many other student athletes out there are struggling with their mental health," Kym said.
More than 115 schools now recognize the first week of October as College Football Mental Health Week. It's meant to raise awareness on the unique struggles athletes face and some of the resources available to help.
"Our student-athletes deal with mental health issues that sometimes people don't recognize because they are student-athletes," Baylor's Associate Athletic Director of Mental Health Services Monique Marsh-Bell said. "They think they have a different experience and sometimes I hear they have a privileged experience, so they don't think they deal with the normal stressors college kids do, but then the additional stressors of being an athlete."
Participating schools will focus on a series of mental health initiatives during this time including breaking the stigma, discussing resources with the athletes, and encouraging them to seek help if needed.
All schools also must do at least one of the following to participate in College Football Mental Health Week:
- Showcase a lime green ribbon on all players' helmets with a “3” in the middle to honor Tyler Hilinski and remember those lost and those suffering in silence
- Encourage students, parents, alumni, and fans to participate in showing solidarity, eliminating stigma around mental health by holding three fingers in the sky during the first play of the third quarter
- Play a Hilinski’s Hope PSA at the CMHW games
- Participate in Hilinski's Hope's: Online Mental Health Course to help reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health concerns
- Participate in a social media campaign
- Participate in an internal assessment to evaluate how universities are following best practices in terms of mental health programs and include talks and trainings on campus for players, coaches, and staff
"It's important that we raise awareness about their mental health struggles to try to start more of these conversations so they can feel empowered to seek help and it's okay if they're having difficulties," Marsh-Bell said.
According to a 2021 study conducted by the NCAA, just 59 percent of male athletes and 50 percent of female athletes believe their coaches take their mental health seriously.
Student-athletes cite academic worries (44 percent), planning for the future (37 percent ), and financial stress (26 percent) as the top factors negatively impacting their mental health.
The study shows that 56 percent of student-athletes know how to help a teammate who is struggling with their mental health, but less than half reported being comfortable seeking help for themselves.
Ali Russell is a senior soccer player at Texas A&M and a mental health advocate for student-athletes.
"I think it's something that all athletes have struggled with," she told 25 News. "It's hard to admit to because you're kind of breed as an athlete to take on those challenges and as someone who can overcome anything. You fall down, you get back up."
It took Russell three years to admit she needed help getting back up.
"The place and the soccer field that was typically such a fun and exciting place for me to become a place where I was nervous, or anxious, or scared of making mistakes or looking different than I was playing before," she said. "A lot of the pressures were making me anxious."
She now encourages her teammates and other athletes to normalize these conversations and seek help if they need it.
"When you feel community and support around you, it's easier speaking up because you've seen someone else do or someone doing it," she said. "It really gives you that sense of I'm not alone in this."
If you're struggling with your mental health, you're not alone and help is just a phone call away.
You can now call or text the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.