Last week, Ryan Day, head football coach at The Ohio State University, sat down with students for a candid talk about mental health.
The event, organized by the Wellness Advocacy student organization, was attended by Ohio State students, faculty and staff as well as Buckeye Paws therapy dogs. Throughout the discussion, Day emphasized the importance of resilience.
“Adversity is coming down the road, so we have to build this resilience up,” he said. “You’re going to be ready for it the more you prepare for it.”
Day likened mental health to physical health, saying that much like physical health, individuals can strengthen their mental health and build resilience over time.
In addition to the similarities between physical and mental health, Day discussed how physical wellness is a key contributor to mental wellness, citing tennis and spending time outdoors as tools he uses to improve and maintain his mood. He also enjoys spending time with loved ones and unplugging.
Day said that a support system is crucial for building resilience, and that having people in your life who will help you and provide honesty when needed is essential. He urged the audience to lean on those closest to them when dealing with adversity.
“Being willing to ask for help is a sign of strength,” he said.
Mental health is a deeply personal issue for Day, who lost his father to suicide when he was 9 years old.
“It’s a hard thing to understand, especially when you’re young,” he said. “As time has gone on, I’ve recognized and learned to share my story. It took a long time.”
Last year, Day and his wife Nina donated $1 million to the university to create the Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund, which supports research and mental health resources.
“Hopefully, in 10 to 20 years, we can find out what those risk factors are that lead to mental illness,” he said. “It’s humbling to be a part of something that’s so progressive.”
Day reminded the audience that handling difficult topics becomes easier the more you discuss them, which is why he is such a vocal advocate for reducing the stigma surrounding mental health challenges.
“The more you talk to others about it, you find that people share a lot of the same experiences,” he said. “You can find some comfort in that.”
Day acknowledged that men, especially athletes, tend to experience a unique stigma when dealing with mental health issues. Day refers to the holistic approach to the team’s wellness as the “circle of care,” which includes resources ranging from proper nutrition to cryogenic chambers to sports psychologists. He discussed the importance of creating an environment for his players to feel comfortable asking for help and receiving care.
“The game of football is a fight, but so is life. It’s a fight to become the best version of yourself every day.”