By Michael Hendrickson, Former Michigan Pitcher & SAAC President
Many struggles, both in mental health and in policy, stem from our fluid definition of success. Success can take many forms across different walks of life, but is often the main driver of our emotional reaction towards an outcome. As difficult as it can be for us to define success in our athletic careers, academic pursuits, and relationships, it is equally as difficult to define when it relates to judging the effectiveness of mental health policy.
It can seem a tall task, tackling an issue so urgent and crucial as a student-athlete. But when we consider mental health policy, it’s apparent it is a grassroots movement in the truest sense. Physicians, counselors, and administrators can stress the importance of mental health and roll out endless actions to improve care, but without buy-in at the student-athlete level it is impossible to impact change. It is vital to have student-athletes in the room, actively engaging in the formation of these approaches to create the most effective work.
As athletes, we pursue perfection. This is, in a lot of ways, what has allowed for the progression of our careers to the collegiate level and beyond. Yet the drive for perfection can become toxic when jumping across disciplines. As we venture in life outside of the bubble that is athletics, success is not as clearly defined as national championships, wins, or individual accolades. Success becomes a lot less linear. Whether the venture is following a retirement from sports, or a concurrent exploration into other fields, the concept of success – and how we’ve been conditioned to chase it – warrants serious grappling and consideration.
Mental health policy is designed to equip individuals with tools to navigate the stresses of everyday life, to provide resources for those with mental illness, and to raise awareness with the goal of eradicating existing stigmas surrounding the topic.
I served two terms as Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) President at the University of Michigan; I remember many meetings feeling at a loss with my SAAC and Athletic Department colleagues as we attempted to concoct the perfect mental health policy, maximizing awareness, optimizing care, and breaking down stigma. Over time, after many meetings of seemingly banging our heads into the wall, it was clear we needed to just put something out.
It was an incredibly hard thing for me to swallow.
After all, I was a neurotic pre-med student, pitcher, and SAAC president – I had become accustomed to demanding, and often experiencing, perfection. But what became clear to us was releasing a non-perfect policy wasn’t simply settling. We realized the process and conversations that come with gradual improvements were the key to a policy’s success. The agreed upon strategies resulted in rich discussions about the impacts and needs of our community with respect to mental health – and that has allowed for tremendous growth that serves far beyond what we could have imagined.
Mental health policy is designed to equip individuals with tools to navigate the stresses of everyday life, to provide resources for those with mental illness, and to raise awareness with the goal of eradicating existing stigmas surrounding the topic. As students, mental health is one issue where these desired outcomes are within our reach. The guidelines we institute today will be adapted, vetted, and rewritten over time.
Regardless, the policies will put mental health in the forefront because of our commitment to progress. The discourse that follows any approach is the real success, raising awareness and allowing people to grow collectively in their pursuit of a better future, for themselves as individuals, and for the communities they reach. No one has the end-all be-all answer to mental health, but we all have a responsibility to use our unique platform to be advocates in a policy sense.
Direct focus to progress, not perfection, in both policy and life, and we can create something worthwhile.
About the Author
Michael Hendrickson is a Saline, Michigan, native and a three-year letterwinner for the University of Michigan baseball team. In 2016 he was named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and in 2017 he was a CoSIDA Academic All-District selection. A 28th-round pick by the Cleveland Indians in the 2017 MLB Draft, Hendrickson is set to complete his degree this year in biopsychology, cognition and neuroscience.