ODAC uses social media campaign to help 'break the stigma' around mental health and sports

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)-- For many athletes across all levels of competition, the past two months have brought changes that haven't been easy to handle.

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"To have your identity basically taken away from you, to have your number one coping strategy taken away from you, is incredibly challenging," said Tara Nunley, the clinical director of counseling services at the University of Lynchburg. "To have it taken away so abruptly--spring sports had already started--first and foremost, just understand that feelings of anxiety and depression and even grief are very, very normal."

Nunley is helping contribute to the ODAC's mental health social media campaign, which gives student-athletes around the conference a chance to help break the stigma surrounding the topic by sharing their personal stories.

"It helps to just share what's inside because, if you don't, then your emotions are like a pressure cooker," she said. "They're going to explode on somebody. They're going to explode in some way and in some capacity if you don't start letting some steam off from time-to-time, which is what sports used to do for people. It was the way to let some of that steam off and so, now that you don't have that, you have to kind of create your own opportunities for that."

Nunley said athletes struggling with the current break in the action should try to develop new hobbies, or what she calls positive coping strategies, and stay connected to friends, teammates and coaches to help fill the void.

She also said having someone to talk with about mental health can even have positive effects on the field when the games start back up.

"Talking to someone about it gives it a boundary," she said, explaining the thought process. "'This is the place that I'm going to go and I'm going to talk about it, so that when I'm on the field, I'm not thinking about it all the time. It's not consuming me. That anxiety is not overwhelming me and I can truly focus on what I want to do and what I'm trying to do and I can connect with my teammates because I'm present and I'm here.'"

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