Like all student-athletes, Madison Orobono, a rising senior on the North Carolina field hockey team who is also part of the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey National Team, has long been accustomed to year-round practice and training. Last fall, in the wake of a challenging 2020-21 academic year of working around and through the pandemic, she began to address her mental well-being with the same focus.
“Ever since then, I’ve noticed that I have become more open to speaking out about my struggles and I have become an even better advocate for mental health,” Orobono said. “I am very thankful for the resources that UNC has offered me and hope that those that are struggling know that they are not alone and that there is always someone for them to talk to.”
In an effort to amplify that message, Orobono was one of six speakers at UNC’s 2022 Student-Athlete Mental Health Forum, which took place last month, prior to the end of spring semester classes. The annual forum is organized by the Carolina Athletics Mental Health & Performance Psychology Program and is one of numerous events throughout the year targeted to the mental health and well-being of UNC student-athletes.
In addressing her own mental health, Orobono has become a campus ambassador for Morgan’s Message, which emphasizes the importance of mental health for student-athletes, a group which may be more reluctant to seek mental health counseling and support.
The event included five TED Talks-style speeches in addition to Orobono’s information. Speakers were John Gove (men’s cross country and track & field), Enyaeva Michelin (women’s cross country and track & field), Kit Olmsted (field hockey), Noland Brown (football and wrestling), and Madias Loper (men’s track & field). Topics included managing expectations; retirement from sport; impact of the pandemic on mental health; and coping with challenges including grief, depression and eating disorders.
“It was as simple as athletes talking to athletes,” Loper said. “We often find ourselves learning about mental health and hearing stories from professionals, but to willingly receive anecdotal experiences from fellow athletes made the impact greater.
“Having the Athletic Department arrange events is great, but it starts with my peers and me making a difference, whether that’s speaking about mental health, or making the effort to support each other and listen to our truths. These conversations are important and should be continued as they help unify and connect us in ways we didn’t think it would.”
UNC continues to build resources toward supporting student-athlete mental health while continuing to emphasize the importance of such efforts. Dr. Jeni Shannon directs the Mental Health and Performance Psychology program, which works with student-athletes on all aspects of mental health and wellness. Throughout the month of May, UNC hosted additional events as part of Mental Health Awareness Month.
In partnership with Morgan’s Message, Carolina kicked off a “Coffee and Conversations” feature, with plans to make it a regular event. UNC also emphasizes education and well-being for coaches, this month hosting a roundtable on wellness, a “Lunch and Learn” on suicide awareness and prevention, and an “I CARE” (Identify, Connect, and Refer) session, part of a continuing training series.
“It’s been wonderful to see our staff continue to grow and better meet the needs of the student-athletes,” Shannon said. “The last couple of years have been particularly challenging for everyone and we continue to see the demand for mental health support and training grow. We are seeing student-athletes be more and more willing to talk openly about mental health and ask for support. So much of that can be attributed to sharing their lived experiences with each other and integrating conversations about mental health into team settings and support settings, such as the athletic training room, the weight room, or academics.”
For more information on the Carolina Athletics Mental Health & Performance Psychology Program and for mental health resources, click here.