Student-athletes “stomp out” mental illnesses


Contributed by Winona State Student Athlete-Advisory Committee

Students gather to stamp out stigma during “Step Out of Stigma Week,” which took place Monday, Oct. 9 through Thursday, Oct. 12, last week with an event each day that brought awareness to mental health and the resources available around campus.

Mitchell Breuer, Editor-In-Chief

This past week the Winona State University Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) held their second annual “Step Out of Stigma Week,” created to bring awareness to mental health and the resources provided around campus to help.

According to Winona State University’s Associate Athletic Director and Senior Women’s Administrator Myranda Nash, the week’s origin drew inspiration from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference requirement for each institution in the conference to put on a mental health awareness panel for their institution’s student-athletes to bring awareness.

Shannon Galliart
Left to right: Sophomore Hannah Sterkowitz, first year Megan Danielson and first year Katie Tillman at their booth handing out coloring pages in the IWC last Wednesday during Step our of Stigma week.

The Winona State SAAC believed more needed to be done, so they addressed the original requirements. However, instead of just holding a panel, Winona State student-athletes decided to have an entire week dedicated to the cause. They also decided to turn the focus from just athletes, to all students on campus.

The week proved to be as successful as last year, and the movement received the third most votes out the 25 finalists in for the NCAA DII Award of Excellence, an annual accolade recognizing positive campus and community engagement events, and was awarded $1,000 to be used for future community engagement initiatives.

Working with the Student Health & Wellness Advocates group, the Integrated Wellness Complex and Better You Health & Fitness, the committee was able to put on several events throughout the week to spread their message.

Monday was “Get Out at the Gazebo” where students were given healthy snacks and made “pinwheels of hope” to place around the lawn.

Tuesday night, the SAAC organized a mental health panel hosted by Mick Lynch, a Winona State counselor, where a couple of student-athletes spoke about their personal battles and how they have dealt with them. Among the speakers was senior football player Justin Bergeron.

“I really wanted to get involved with this week because last year I went through some depression myself which lead to the creation of my app, “Better You Health and Fitness.” I wanted to make it a point to everyone that mental illness is way more common than they think and we can be the generation that truly stomps the stigma,” Bergeron said.

Throughout the panel, Bergeron described how creating daily routines, setting goals for himself, and trying new things such as joining the SAAC helped him while going through personal lows after having had a season-ending surgery. He also emphasized the message “there’s always a next sentence,” essentially saying never give up and that there is plenty of helping hands to help if you are going through a rough patch, even offering himself as a person to go to if anyone needs a person to talk to.

“The most important thing students need to understand is that they are not alone,” Bergeron said. “Mental illness is not something that is ‘cured,’ it’s something that you have to work at day in and day out. But what’s important is taking that first step. There’s always a next sentence, let’s right it together.”

Bergeron’s app, “Better You Health and Fitness,”  which is free of charge and requires no subscription, is available for download on the Apple App Store. The app claims to be the “one stop shop for holistic health,” providing recipes for meals, morning and night exercise routines, various workouts and the ability to help users plan out what they should purchase during their next grocery store trip.

Back row left to right: Junior Nickolas Pridgeon, sophomore Bridget Doran, junior Courtney Bergum and junior Sidney Brunholzl
Front row left to right: Junior Shannon Brohan, first year Raven Ferry-LeClair and junior Jake Dotseth hand out ribbons for mental health awareness in the gazebo last Thursday, Oct. 12 for “Step Out of Stigma Week”.

In addition to the panel, Bergeron also participated in the week by providing daily stories and announcements on the “Better You Health and Fitness” Instagram page (@betteryouhf) and provided the QR codes that could be scanned to reveal positivity sticky notes that were spread around campus.

Wednesday was turned in to “Wind Down Wednesday,” where students could practice stress management and Thursday brought in “Stomp Out Stigma” day, where those around campus could pledge to do their best to reduce the stigma around mental health.

Another student-athlete that was not only involved throughout the week, but played a crucial part in organizing the events, was junior golfer Courtney Bergum.

“I decided to get involved in this movement because I was seeing the stigma that mental health has on students. Most people are afraid to get help because they think it is a sign of weakness when it most definitely is not. I’ve heard too many stories of people going through the struggle with depression and anxiety, and I want them to know that it is okay to not be okay, “Bergum said. “There are people and resources out there to help them. I got involved because I want to get the word out about how important mental health is.”

With the help of Students Health & Wellness Advocacy group and “Better You Health & Fitness,” Bergum was able to coordinate the week’s events.

“I took this initiative on through our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was the lead for this group,” Bergum said. “I was unable to attend the Monday and Tuesday events due to a golf tournament, but I got to help out and raise awareness on Wednesday and Thursday which was so great to be a part of.”

The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee says that “Step Out of Stigma Week” will continue on a yearly basis, hoping that it becomes a tradition on campus and continues to have a positive impact on students.

“The most important takeaway from this week is that there are so many resources and people out there willing to help, but we need to make sure everyone knows that it’s okay to have a mental illness, and to not be okay. Mental health is a part of your overall health, and it should be taken care of just like any physical health problem,” Bergum said. “We must keep raising awareness because together we can end the stigma around mental health.”

For those looking for more information around mental health visit the WSU Mental Health Service section on Winona State’s website or call the WSU Counseling and Wellness Services at 507-457-5330.