Mock Rock Raises Awareness for Mental Health
What sounds better than seeing Jim and Sarah Harbaugh as well as Summer Berman (director of Fresh Start Clubhouse) judge the University of Michigan’s athletes, athletic trainers, and marching band as they all perform variety acts for an amazing cause? The answer is nothing.
What is the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the athletic community? This was one of the many questions I asked myself when researching my next article topic. That’s when I came across Mock Rock, a student-athlete talent show that was originally created to pay tribute to a University of Michigan wrestler, Jeff Reese, who passed away during training. Every year for the past 18 years, the benefits from Mock Rock have been donated to a different cause. Last year, they worked to raise awareness about mental health in collaboration with Athletes Connected, another organization dedicated to promoting mental health in student-athletes through research, treatment and education. Their partnership with Athletes Connected led them to this years’ beneficiary, Fresh Start Clubhouse, an organization that aims to, “create a culture that transforms the lives of men and women living with mental illness” (http://freshstartclubhouse.org/). I sat down with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Mock Rock Chair, Claire Borchers, to learn more about mental health in the athletic community.
Claire explained to me that in recent years, the topic of mental health has gained momentum, making it a more widely accepted reality of many athletes. However, she also explained how the pressure that athletes receive from coaches, fans, and themselves generates a separate stigma, one that makes athletes feel like they always need to “have it all together.” At first, this made talking about mental health very difficult. You have a coach that you want to impress so that you get playing time, you want to be a leader and role model for your teammates, and you compete with yourself to achieve the goals you set for the season. If mental illness “is the one thing that makes you different, it knocks you down.”
Although coaches have become increasingly more understanding of mental health issues over the years, Claire explained that there is still a long way to go. She explained that the expectations for athletes are not only on intense on the field or track, but also intense in the classroom. These athletes are often viewed as just athletes, when in reality they are also just kids striving to figure themselves out like the rest of us. Meeting these expectations can often be overwhelming, which is why Mock Rock has taken such an interest in spreading awareness about mental health.
Seeing other athletes speak out about their struggle has been central to the de-stigmatization of mental health issues. Chamique Holdsclaw, a former professional WNBA player, came to the U of M academic center to speak about her struggle with depression. Mental health issues were rarely, if ever, discussed when Chamique was competing, inspiring her to be an advocate and role model for athletes today. Claire explained that seeing someone like Chamique, who is successful despite struggling with mental illness was tremendously empowering for her and many of her teammates. Understanding that even the most successful athletes continue to battle mental health issues each and every day is central to raising awareness and generating conversation about mental health in the athletic community.
The success of Michigan’s athletic department has culminated an immense sense of pressure for each athlete to perform at their best -- but can you perform at your best if you are not as mentally strong as you are physically? Claire explained to me that, “it’s not just about the physical drills, it’s about your willingness and drive to beat the people you’re competing against and you can’t do that if you are not mentally prepared.” She hopes that there becomes an understanding of mental health as something that, “requires the same amount of attention and care as (our) physical health.”
The show will take place on February 21st at 7:30pm at the power center – doors will open at 6:30pm. Tickets are available online and before the show, $5 for students and $10 general admission. All student athletes will be performing, in addition to performances by the athletic trainers and the marching band.