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Millersville student-athletes team up with The Hidden Opponent to bring awareness to mental health

There’s an opponent that follows students and student-athletes wherever they go, mental health. College students are working to face this opponent.

MILLERSVILLE, Pa. — There are only 24 hours in a day and when you subtract eight hours of sleep, going to class, practicing, studying, doing homework, and- of course- eating three meals… the day seems so much shorter.

There’s also an opponent that students and student-athletes face that isn’t visible to the naked eye. It follows them wherever they go. 

This opponent is mental health.

Two Millersville University student-athletes are trying to end the stigma by teaming up with a world-renowned non-profit, The Hidden Opponent.

“I feel like I’ve always known it was a serious issue because I grew up being an athlete. But, when I was growing up, I feel like I would always brush my emotions to the side," said Lindsay Solderitch, a track and field sophomore. 

Instead of combating mental health, student-athletes face it like a rival team.

The NCAA did a study last year on mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression. They are 1.5 to two times higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whenever I got injured, my mental health tended to spiral and in high school, I really didn’t seek out the supports that I did in college. So, I wanted to propel that support for it and pay it forward to the people that helped me get through all my struggles," said Jenna Dumbrowsky, a track and field sophomore. 

“Having this program will normalize the conversation. The people that are really fearful to talk about can really use their voice," said Maya Porrecca, a lacrosse sophomore.

Porrecca and Dumbrowsky might play different sports but they’re on the same team when it comes to teaching fellow student-athletes about mental health.

They’re paying it forward by teaming up with the non-profit The Hidden Opponent, even becoming campus captains to bring awareness to mental health.

The students host an hour-long session once a month to advocate, educate and support one another.

But knowing how to balance everything can be hard.

Maya porrecca – lacrosse sophomore

"It’s actually a lot when you break it down and look at it. [Like] I have this much time to do homework, I have to practice at this time, I have class at this time, I also have to eat and I have to get eight hours of sleep and it just all builds up to this ball on fire.”

The sessions can be eye-opening

“I think it opens up a lot of doors. It’s easy to say that. It’s another thing to actually see it. So, these meetings help with that," said Ashlyn Hickey, a track and field junior. 

“It means a lot to see other student-athletes that can relate and then it’s student-athletes that are putting on the meetings. So, it kind of shows a lot that everyone does struggle and everyone deserves to get help," added Solderitch. 

They’re even taking the fight to the playing field. A Maurader baseball player saw The Hidden Opponent Millersville page and reached out to bring awareness at a game, not just talking to students but also informing fans.

It’s one conversation that can lead to another to help save a life.

“I hope it means that we won’t lose another person. There’s no guaranteeing it. I think that spreading the word and having these meetings is one way to show people there is help out there," said Dumbrowsky. 

The hidden opponent has reached more than 500 campuses across the world.

Forty-two colleges, universities and high schools are raising awareness in the Keystone State; Etown, Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg, Shippensburg and Millersville all have campus captains that hope to turn the page against mental health.

"It's really incredible to see how many people are willing to get involved in this mission and are willing to support it. Coaches, fans, players and all types of people," said Leeann Passaro, the COO of The Hidden Opponent. 

"We like to say we're a community for anyone who's involved in the sports world or even just sports fans. We're hoping for some policy change that might put more safety nets in place, might put more resources in the hands of student-athletes and the hands of coaches and athletic trainers who are on the ground doing this good work," she continued. 

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