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Balancing Act

Student-athletes applaud Olympian’s decision to focus on her mental health

Earlier this summer, when U.S. gymnast Simone Biles made the decision to withdraw from competing in the Olympics to focus on her mental health, many weighed in, including some Bridgewater State University student-athletes who found the decision empowering.

“I thought it was really shocking, but in the best way possible,” said senior Malika Cruickshank, a chemistry major who throws hammer for the BSU indoor and outdoor track and field teams.

“As student-athletes we are all familiar with having off days and know it affects your performance,” Malika said. “Competing at the level (Simone Biles) is at, it was better for her not to compete, she could injure herself.”

Fellow thrower and track and field team captain, Ashley Garvey, ’22, also supports Biles’ decision.

“I felt her decision to pull out shows just how strong of an athlete she really is,” Ashley said. “It was definitely eye opening for a lot people as athletes are often judged by their physical ability, and sure, a lot goes into it physically, but 99 percent is mental.”

In regards to the naysayers and critics of Biles’ decision, Malika said, that when it comes to mental health, unfortunately there is still a stigma attached.

“Even though we’ve made progress talking about mental health, the general population still doesn’t quite understand. It definitely needs to change,” she said.

How can those changes be made?

“I think through more conversations about mental health,” Malika said. “I’d like to see people actually take the initiative to learn more about it.”

To better educate the campus community, the BSU Wellness Center offers many initiatives as well as mental health supports.

Cross country and track and field runner Shawn Driscoll-Gomez, ’22, has benefitted from therapy sessions through the center, particularly last year during COVID when students were more isolated.

“Talking to someone, having someone listen and validate my feelings, that was really good,” he said.

The biology major admits he was nervous at first to walk into the Wellness Center, but soon discovered it was a welcoming environment.

“As I went and got more comfortable, it became easier for me,” Driscoll-Gomez said.

Malika has also benefitted from counseling through the BSU Wellness Center.

“The first time I went, I was terrified of being judged, you never know what someone else is thinking,” she said. “I think it’s all part of the stigma. But it definitely opened up a lot of issues I didn’t think were impacting me. Having a space to talk, where I felt comfortable on campus, made me feel better.”

For those seeking help, one-to-one, group counseling and workshops they can call, 508-531-1331. 

All services are free and confidential and tailored to each student’s needs.

There are also online tools and services for those students unsure whether they want to talk with a counselor.

Togetherall is a virtual, peer-to-peer, anonymous support community where students can share their concerns.

WellTrack is another online resource offered to BSU students. It is a free app that can help students understand feelings of stress, anxiety and depression and offers ways to manage those feelings.

When it comes to mental health, Donna Schiavo, BSU Wellness Center clinical director, counseling services said, its important students know: “None of us gets through life alone. We all need supportive and caring people to help us navigate the stresses and worries of life. People who can help us get through the ups and downs that we all experience.”

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