Members of the The Global Mental Health Alliance: We’re All A Little “Crazy” (WAALC) shared their personal struggles against anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to a captivated audience in an effort to change the discourse around mental health in Ukrop Auditorium Tuesday night.
UR was selected along with 15 schools to host a "#SameHere Sit-Down," where guests, including a few from the sports world, opened a dialogue about mental health.
Professional sports executive Eric Kussin founded the WAALC organization and #SameHere movement after an excruciating battle with mental illness derailed his life’s trajectory, he said.
Kussin, alongside ESPN’s Darren Rovell and former NHL player Theoren Fleury, led a discussion followed by an information session to initiate conversation around the mental health continuum. They said their goal was simple: to transform the world into an inclusive community that accepts the personal battles we all face.
Kussin began by describing his relatively normal childhood. He said he had been like any other athletic, happy middle child. He went on to study at Cornell, where he walked on to the basketball team. Sports were his passion. After college, he worked at the NBA League Office, later progressing to several senior management positions with various professional sports teams. He was living the life that he had always envisioned for himself, he said.
In 2015, Kussin realized a change in himself, he said. He no longer wanted to go to the gym or out with friends after work. In just a few weeks, his mental health had deteriorated rapidly, he said. After struggling to choose a pair of shoes and sitting at work unable to communicate with anyone, he said he had taken time off to go home and seek treatment.
“I spent two-and-a-half years lying on a bed, staring at the ceiling, not watching TV, not talking to friends,” Kussin said.
During that time, Kussin was prescribed over 50 medications, 22 sessions of transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy and 12 sessions of "shock therapy," all to no avail, he said.
Finally, a practitioner identified traumas in Kussin’s childhood that had never been addressed and began to help him heal. As Kussin fought to regain control of his mental health, he knew that, despite his unique story, he wasn’t struggling alone, he said.
Kussin founded We’re All A Little “Crazy” in October 2017 with the goal of forming a worldwide alliance to combat the mental health epidemic. He sought out professional athletes and celebrities who had battled mental illness to share their stories alongside his own, he said.
Before the event, Dr. Kristen Day, a member of the Counseling and Psychological Services staff on campus, expressed the importance of involving celebrity stories in the movement.
“I believe it highlights how anyone, regardless of life variables, can experience issues related to mental health,” Day said.
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As Day predicted, Fleury’s story had a palpable effect on the room. Fleury is a Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist who suffered traumatizing abuse throughout his childhood and used hockey as a coping mechanism, he said.
His breaking point came when he was thrown out of the NHL in 2003. Alone, he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with his troubling past, he said.
Sober for 13 years and working to help trauma victims, Fleury was one of the first celebrities to join Kussin’s alliance. He and the other members of the celebrity alliance are sharing their stories to show that no one is immune to mental illness.
“Don’t be afraid, because you are not in the minority, you’re in the majority,” Fleury said.
Senior athletes Mackenzie Cox and Marshea Robinson attended the event. The two are completing a capstone project that explores athletes and mental illness in an effort to direct support and resources to athletes on campus. They emphasized the importance of the message WAALC is trying to spread.
“We don’t have a lot of opportunities for athletes to have examples of other athletes that have struggled through this," Cox said. "So many athletes are struggling now that don’t feel like they have a resource.”
Lauren Wicklund, associate athletic director for leadership and development at UR, echoed Cox’s words.
“Athletes have to be good leaders but also in the best physical shape and mental shape to lead their teams, and that’s a lot of pressure," Wicklund said, "especially while competing at a highly academic school like Richmond. No matter how amazing you are, that’s a lot of pressure."
Looking to the future, Wicklund explained that events like this are just the beginning of systemic changes within the athletic program aimed at making it more proactive about mental health rather than just reactive.
“It’s nice because the campus has the same goal, so I think we will really align to do that for every student on the campus,” Wicklund said.
Contact sports writer Paige Jeckering at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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