BRADFORD, Pa. – The most important information given in the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford athletics community this week neither came in the form of X's and O's, nor was it written in a playbook or on a chalkboard.
Pitt-Bradford student-athletes and staff had the opportunity to hear Will Heininger, a former Michigan football player and current program coordinator at the University of Michigan Depression Center, speak about mental health at the Bromeley Theater on Monday evening.
"Our goal is to eliminate the stigma," Heininger said. "The same way we can recognize a physical injury, we should be able to pay attention to and understand our mind, brain and thoughts. And if that is taking us away from our goals and not making us feel good, we should know that's a part of our body that needs attention, just like any other physical injury."
The former student-athlete shared his struggles with mental health and how he chose to dedicate his life to helping others overcome similar concerns.
At the University of Michigan, Heininger helps run the Athletes Connected program, which is "a unique collaboration between the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Depression Center, and Athletic Department to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce the stigma of help-seeking, and promote positive coping skills among student-athletes."
"It's important to think of all the resources available as instruments on a tool belt to access when necessary," Heininger explained. "Mental health is a wide spectrum. It's all about knowing the best way to treat yourself, accessing those tools on the belt, whether it's doing something mindful, getting lost in that favorite song, talking to somebody about what's going on, or seeking further assistance."
Heininger's address comes as the first part of Pitt-Bradford Athletics' initiative for mental health awareness.
On Saturday, Oct. 6, Pitt-Bradford Athletics will host Mental Health Awareness Day at its home women's volleyball and soccer events.
Encompassing the entire campus, resource tables will be set up while activities and social media campaigns will take place throughout the week leading up to Oct. 6.
The week's content will be spearheaded by Pitt-Bradford student-athletes.
"The athletic departments that I've seen the most progress in and the most sustained improvement in mental health offering to the student-athletes are the ones like here at Pitt-Bradford, where it's prioritized from the top down," Heininger summarized. "Everyone is in sync with the idea of, 'Of course the functioning of your brain should be the most important thing we prioritize.' And for that reason, I'm excited to see where Pitt-Bradford takes this going forward."
For information on Athletes Connected, click here.