“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”
“Everyone has a story” has been a theme this spring for participants in the Duke Athletics Leadership program. Student-athletes, coaches and administrators have discussed the importance of understanding that everyone struggles at times. In particular, participants in the leadership program have been challenged to think about how they balance accountability and empathy. Leaders and teammates must hold themselves and others to a high standard if they have any chance of being successful. However, “life happens” and we all have challenges that are not always easily noticed.
“I think this project is a worthy reminder, for everyone, that we all are fighting an internal battle, and often one we did not choose. Sometimes the tough can overshadow the enjoyable, and make contentment seem so far away. The good news is that being on a team, surrounded by thoughtful peers and colleagues, can help deliver love, acceptance and strength, when it is most needed.”
--Megan Cooke, Duke Rowing Coach
Physical injury and illness are widely accepted as parts of every day life and student-athletes are accustomed to discussing these challenges with their coaches, trainers and physicians. However, mental illness is a much different story; it still has a negative stigma in our society. As a result, students are less willing to share their struggles with others. This is particularly challenging in the world of athletics because of the pressure to show strength and toughness at all times. To help create further dialogue and attempt to lessen the stigma of mental health issues, we are working to create a culture where student-athletes are willing to talk about their struggles rather than manage them on their own. One project helping us accomplish this is a video titled “Everyone Has a Story.” Using Duke University staff, students and student-athletes as actors, this video provides a powerful message that the image student-athletes portray is often a far cry from what is happening under the surface. Editor, director and Duke student Jackson Steger highlights this phenomenon as he discusses why he wanted to participate in the project.
“I made this video because I want students who feel alone in their struggle to remember that their peers are fighting their own demons under the surface,” Steger said. “We should have the courage to be empathetic with one another and to be honest about how we really feel. Stigma surrounding mental health is especially dangerous because if students feel suffocated by their inability to share how they feel, they'll be stuck in vicious cycles where they don't get the help they need. I'm devastated to have lost friends to depression, an invisible and insidious disease that plagues too many people that all students know. I hope this video is able to spark a conversation about mental health and effortless perfection, and how the two are undoubtedly linked.”