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College football Mental Health Awareness Week

Last week was college football mental health awareness week. This week the MAC follows with their own mental health awareness week. While May is the nationally recognized Mental Health Awareness Month, the first full week in October has been adopted as mental health awareness week. Usually the momentum from that week carries over into the remaining days of October as well.

Last weekend 16 college teams had a green ribbon sticker on the back of their helmets to bring awareness to mental health. This year was also the inaugural #3Day. #3Day was created by the Hilinski's Hope Foundation in honor of Tyler Hilinski, who wore number 3 for Washington State University. Tyler passed away from suicide on January 16, 2018. Tyler's parents created the foundation in order to advocate, educate, eliminate the stigma and bring awareness to mental health particularly in athletes.

Mental health awareness seems to be gaining steam while the stigma seems to be subsiding, but there is still much work left to do. Earlier this fall, Dak Prescott opened up about his own battles with mental health. Studies show that 35% of professional athletes struggle with mental health, while 25% of college athletes show signs of mental health concerns. Of that 25%, only 10% seek help. Dak's candidness provided another example of just how hidden mental health struggles can be.

This year for Western Michigan, the MAC Mental Health Awareness week hits too close to home as the Broncos lost one of their own just this June. Yesterday, all of Western Michigan's athletic teams took a 68 second moment of silence to honor former Bronco football player Jamal Williams. Williams was killed by a hospital security guard while seeking mental health assistance.

Sometimes it is forgotten that although these athletes may be as outstanding as Dak or a rising star like Tyler Hilinski or as big in stature as Jamal Williams, they can still face mental heath battles.

We all need to continue to have these conversations even after mental health awareness weeks are over. Coaches, you are often a player's most trusted person. In a sport founded on the concept of mental toughness, it is important to be aware of the mental health concerns of student-athletes.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255. It provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.