Athlete and Brand Partnerships Are Challenging the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
By Zach Weisleder
A continued, mutual effort between athletes and brands surrounding mental health awareness in 2021 could prove invaluable.
The mental health ramifications of COVID-19 have put the physical and emotional well-being of millions across the world in peril. These ramifications also exist among professional athletes. A joint study released in October by Stanford University and Strava, an app designed for runners and cyclists, shows the correlation between 131 professional athletes and their mental health. 20% of the surveyed athletes reported difficulty training and attributed that difficulty to their mental health, lack of motivation, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the virus and its restrictions, nearly 4% of surveyed athletes reported that they’d felt ‘down’ or ‘depressed’ for more than half of the week. Between March and August, over 22% of the athletes experienced feelings of depression.
It’s difficult to scale mental health rates among just 131 endurance athletes to those who compete on a court, field, or ice. Albeit, it is notable that exercise’s typical ability to alleviate anxiety and depression has been a struggle for endurance athletes (cyclists, runners), who for the most part, have had easier access to their training than those who play team sports.
Being an athlete isn’t easy. Being an athlete who speaks up about their struggles with mental health isn’t any easier. Over the last two decades, the avenue for professional athletes to open up about their struggle with anxiety, depression, and mental health has grown drastically.
Michael Phelps, the most-decorated Olympic athlete ever, won an award for mental health advocacy in May of 2019. His bout with depression stood the test of his swimming career and occupies his life after it. Phelps continues to advocate for mental health-related causes through his partnership with Talkspace, a website that allows you to chat with therapists in private chat rooms. In recent months since the pandemic began, his organization has pledged to continue partnering with leading organizations to continue advancing mental health initiatives.
2016 NBA champion Kevin Love has publicly expressed his struggles with depression since 2018. Love partnered with the meditation and mindfulness app Headspace before the pandemic. In recent months, the partnership began offering free mindfulness tools to help frontline workers, educators, and all others within the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada who are experiencing Covid-19 related anxiety.
In December, the NHL announced that teams could put an advertisement on its players' helmets during the 2020-2021 season. While many teams chose to put the logo of their respective arena's sponsor on their helmets, the Los Angeles Kings decided to put the logo of the California HOPE Crisis Counseling Program, a mental health awareness initiative run by California's Department of Health Care Services, on theirs.
The awareness efforts extend beyond the athlete. It also exists among those who have made careers as influencers. Canadians Howie Mandel and Michael Landsberg, known for their exploits as television personalities and sports journalists respectively, have been at the forefront of the discussion surrounding mental health for years. Since partnering with Bell Let’s Talk, an awareness campaign created by Bell Media, the two have helped spearhead Canada’s single largest corporate effort to fight mental health. Bell Let’s Talk Day is on January 28th.
In March, COVID-19 forced athletes and their philanthropic initiatives to the virtual world only. Their responses were admirable. Athletes on the global stage spoke up, partnered with brands that helped them spread their story, and challenged the inherent stigma surrounding mental health. 2021 should be no different.