News Article Details

'Breaking the stigma': Ryan Day commits to confronting mental illness

The Blade - 6/13/2019

Jun. 13--COLUMBUS -- Ohio State announced June 5 that football coach Ryan Day and his wife, Christina, created a fund for pediatric and adolescent mental wellness at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

The gesture wasn't out of the ordinary for head coaches, who often contribute to charities and area-related causes. But Day's act was deeply personal.

When Day was 9, his father committed suicide, sending the younger Day through a gamut of emotions, from sadness to anger to bitterness. Three decades later, he understands the effects of mental illness and its lasting impact.

"You start to realize in your 20s and 30s, it kind of makes more sense what happened, you have a better perspective of what it is," Day said. "Growing up, I didn't quite understand what all went down. And then as I get older, I started to realize that it was a sickness and that there's people out there that need help."

The United States is a country inundated with mental illness. Approximately one in five adults -- nearly 50 million people -- experience mental illness every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

More than 20 percent of youths ages 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder and only half of children ages 8 to 15 receive appropriate mental health services. Serious mental illness costs the U.S.$193.2 billion in lost earnings each year, and more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have symptoms of a mental health condition, the NAMI reported.

"I just think it's tremendous what [Day] and his wife are doing," Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann said. "Super excited to see that and support that in any way we can. I think it's interesting, because that is a major issue for athletes. Mental health has become more and more of an issue in the last five to 10 years for our current athletes.

"A lot of people point to social media, and I think that is a real thing. I think social media is a major concern. I think it's a significant contributor to the struggles in the area of mental health with some of our athletes. It's a constant conversation with our players about mental health and the role that social media plays in that, and we're bringing in some people this summer actually to delve into that in more detail."

Day wants to be part of the conversation, removing the stigma and reluctance to openly discuss mental illness. He also wants to be part of the solution. Spreading awareness and contributing $100,000, part of the "On Our Sleeves" initiative, is the Days' method of moving the conversation forward.

"There's a stigma attached to it that I don't think is right," he said. "It's a stigma that maybe even as a young person I bought into. And then as I got older, I don't buy that anymore. It's just like any other sickness. I think if somebody has cancer or somebody gets ill, they need treatment. Well, it's the same thing with mental health. The biggest thing is breaking these stigmas, breaking the stigma, especially men, of not having those conversations."

The "On Our Sleeves" initiative was launched by Nationwide Children's Hospital to build a community of support for children living with mental illness through advocacy, education, and fund-raising. The name "On Our Sleeves" is a nod to kids not wearing their thoughts on their sleeves.

"We decided to team up with [Nationwide Children's Hospital], because what they're doing is something that really hits home with me, hits home with Nina, and is something we want to be a part of," Day said. "It's kind of on the cutting edge of what they want to do in building a hospital next spring for teenagers and adolescents in crisis."

The facility Day referenced is the nine-story Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion, which will be the largest children's and adolescent's mental health building in the country that's located on a pediatric campus. The fully multidisciplinary facility will provide emergency, inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care, and house a research center for mental health.

"Everything's changing around us, and being able to look at the student-athletes' well-being and knowing we have to adjust something, for Coach Day to take the steps he's taking from a mental health standpoint, I get up and applaud him big time," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "That's unbelievable and a very righteous cause. It's well-needed in this society."

The open-door or sunshine philosophy isn't reserved for just the Days' wallet or news conferences. Ohio State will have two sports psychologists and counselors available to the football team this year, an acknowledgment of the stress, pressure, and college-related issues that players face.

Prevention is the goal. And if there are mental health issues, he wants to root them out and find the proper treatment.

"They're in a high-profile position, so there's anxiety, there's depression, there's things that go on even with our players and I want those guys to feel like they can have those conversations," Day said. "In a manly sport, I think it's good for people to hear the fact that our guys are vulnerable. We're all vulnerable, and if people need help, they shouldn't be ashamed of that."


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