“When the trainer can see you’re injured, they make you sit out because they can see your physical health is at stake, but when no one can see your mental health, it’s just up to you to decide,” Victoria Garrick said in her now-famous TedTalk.
Garrick spoke on the mental health of athletes at the University of Southern California in 2017 during her time as a D1 volleyball player and has since turned her mission into a movement by founding The Hidden Opponent, a non-profit advocacy group.
The mental health discussion has grown to include athletes, particularly over the last five years and following the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates like Garrick are raising awareness about athletes' struggles with things like anxiety, depression and isolation.
Lauren Walsh, a junior on the UNC rowing team from Ambler, Pa., moved to UNC during the height of the pandemic to begin her college career. As an out-of-state student athlete, Walsh said she faced struggles similar to many first-years, while also dealing with her rigorous athletic schedule.
Walsh said that she, like many other athletes, often convinced herself that she was the only one feeling depressed or anxious. Since then, Walsh has become an advocate for athletes struggling with their mental health and says she wants to be a resource for others.
Before her junior year, Walsh applied to be a campus captain for The Hidden Opponent and was selected to lead alongside her senior teammate Kate Burgess and junior volleyball player Mabrey Shaffmaster.
“When I came to college my first year I struggled severely with mental health. Especially with COVID and isolation and everything, so that inspired me to get involved with Hidden Opponent,” Walsh said.
This school year, the organization has made big strides for mental health in UNC athletics. In April, The Hidden Opponent hosted Garrick on campus in a student-led panel. Director of the Carolina Athletics Mental Health and Performance Psychology Program Dr. Jeni Shannon also helped organize the event.
The panel featured junior running back Elijah Green and senior field hockey player Madison Orobono.