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Marlins to expand mental wellness program supporting local students-athletes

Great Minds–Great Athletes will serve student-athletes at 27 schools in Miami-Dade County

Miami Marlins outfielders stand alongside children for the national anthem before a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, July 28, 2019 at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. Charlie Ortega Guifarro/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Miami Marlins, in partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance and Miami-Dade County Public Schools, announce their intention to expand the Great Minds–Great Athletes program that was founded for the 2020-2021 school year. The program aims to nurture middle and high school students’ mental and emotional well-being by teaching important social-emotion skills, supporting character development, and implementing mental wellness programs into the educational curriculum.

In its inaugural year, the Great Minds–Great Athletes program worked with nine middle and nine high schools throughout the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system. Through 125 Positive Coaching Alliance workshops, the program reports working with 1,800 M-DCPS student-athletes. For the 2021-2022 school year, Great Minds–Great Athletes is expanding to include 27 local schools.

“Successful program implementation includes targeted education and curriculum, focused implementation, ongoing stewardship and follow-up, coach assessments, workbooks, online courses, account support, awards programs, and a wide range of other resources,” per the latest press release. Besides working with student-athletes, the program also provides support for parents, coaches, and school staff.

Trigger Warning: The section below contains a brief discussion of mental illness and suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255(TALK) or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. You are not alone. You are meant to be alive.

As someone who is no stranger to mental health struggles, I’m encouraged by this program and hope that it can reach the middle and high school athletes who are struggling. Children and teenagers often get written off as “moody” or having an attitude, because adults don’t believe that they have anything to be anxious or depressed about. This mindset is not only wrong, but is actively harmful to children who are struggling. I would know: I was one of those kids.

50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. That number increases to 75% by age 24. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 7.7 million youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016. Adults refusing to believe children when they say they are struggling are why so many people are afraid to get help. Whether it’s a fear of being labeled weak, crazy, or attention-seeking, stigma kills. The average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. 11 years! If you’ve ever wondered why suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10-34, this is why.

I know I would have benefited from conversations normalizing mental health struggles, even more so if the team I loved was vocally advocating for mental well-being and promoting initiatives that will save lives. Mental health struggles create a ripple effect, whether we like it or not. We can either force people to hide under a blanket of shame and stigma, or we can choose to connect with others through vulnerability and compassion. I choose the latter. I hope you will too.