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Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: Highlighting experiences, voices in sport

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Bryan on Premier League promotion, dealing with panic attacks (4:41)

Fulham's Joe Bryan opens up on how he manages anxiety and pressure. (4:41)

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, this May, ESPN highlights the stories of athletes, coaches and other sports figures who have experienced personal battles with mental health, and who want to use their platforms to openly discuss what happened next, and what helped them.

These stories reflect a broad range of subjects and experiences, including life amid the coronavirus pandemic, living with anxiety, depression, coping with pressure in their respective sports, dealing with addiction, and many more.


Olympic and Paralympic athletes on how they overcome the post-Game blues

Paralympian and para-triathlete Melissa Stockwell, BMX rider Alise Willoughby and skateboarder Jordyn Barratt (pictured) discuss what it's been like in the months following the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and how they deal with the post-Games blues.


Can a union fix this? Minor leaguers say poverty-level pay, poor housing are driving a 'mental health crisis'

MLB is a multibillion-dollar business, but you may not know it by how it treats its most vulnerable athletes. ESPN spoke to players and their advocates about what's next.


How Paralympic gold only served to fuel Andy Lewis' fire to help others

Andy Lewis has a phrase tattooed on his left leg: Never Give Up. It's more than a slogan; it's a way of life for the 38-year-old. He is a father, a husband, who is also an amputee and a Paralympic champion with ADHD. He is now also a business owner who came close to taking his own life before a stranger -- who became a friend -- talked him round.

From struggling at school to having a life in the army snatched away from him, from taking the decision to amputate his right leg to winning gold in Rio, Lewis has never given up. Just don't call him superhuman.


USWNT's Press to take time out from soccer

United States women's national team forward Christen Press has announced plans to take time out from soccer, citing a desire to focus on her mental health, spiritual growth, and processing grief.

"I've been a professional player for 10 years," Press said on Instagram. "And I'm very proud of the fact that I've been available for nearly every professional match for both club and country. And yet, that has come with a focus, intensity, and prioritization that has left little room for much else.

"I've made the difficult decision to take some time away from the game to focus on my mental health, spiritual growth, and processing grief. I'm sad to miss the upcoming games and seeing all of our wonderful fans. I believe I will come back stronger than ever. Thanks for all your support on my journey."


Academy players reveal mental health impact of being released: 'My lowest point was not knowing if I would play again'

For footballers up and down the U.K., the start of a new season is filled with hope. But for some, the big kick-off is just another reminder that their own dream is over.

"Coming towards the end of my contract at Manchester United, I knew that my time was up," Demetri Mitchell tells ESPN. "I knew it was coming, but when you get the news, it still hits you hard. I didn't think it was going to be [hard] because I already knew that my time was up, but when I was told, it was tough.

"My lowest point was not knowing if I would play again. I was probably overthinking and being a bit dramatic, but in my head I was thinking, 'Am I going to play again, am I going to be all right, what am I going to do if I can't play?' That period was a very mentally challenging time for me. I tried not to show it as much as possible, but the people around me who are close to me could pick up on it and luckily I had that support."


Sophie Devine: 'We need to normalise the conversation around mental health'

New Zealand captain and opening batter Sophie Devine talks about her mental health struggles, the influence of Naomi Osaka and how Hove felt like home against England.

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Drew Robinson opens up on mental health while preparing for pro baseball comeback

Drew Robinson opens up about his mental health journey as he works toward a return to professional baseball. "Alive: The Drew Robinson Story" streaming now on ESPN+.


'My mind wasn't working': The desperation that drove Julius Ssekitoleko to go MIA at the Olympics

When Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko went missing from his Olympic team hotel in Tokyo, no-one could fathom the desperation and suicidal thoughts he felt at the time.

He spoke exclusively to ESPN about what led him to flee the Olympic village, sleep rough for a few nights and later hand himself in to the police to return to Uganda.


Netherlands' Tom Dumoulin reveals how his break from cycling led him to Olympic silver

Tom Dumoulin thought his career as a professional cyclist was over in January 2020 when he took a five-month hiatus from the sport citing a need for a physical and mental break.

The Dutchman reveals why a break from elite sport to recover and walk his dog allowed him to come back stronger and more motivated which led him to the Tokyo Olympics to win a second silver medal.


Simone Biles discusses her mental health, challenges after winning bronze on beam

Simone Biles was not cleared to compete in any individual event apart from the balance beam, she said in an interview with NBC Sports' Mike Tirico a few hours after winning the bronze medal in the individual beam event on Tuesday.

"When the all-round came, I was like, 'Absolutely not, I don't feel comfortable or safe going out there,'" Biles explained. She said she felt the same way before the vault event.

But with uneven bars, she actually felt hopeful when she went into practice, she said. But, she "still got lost in the air" before she came down and crashed. "We were like it's not the best idea to do that," she said.


FIFA launches mental health campaign encouraging people to seek help

FIFA has announced a new campaign to raise awareness of mental health conditions and encourage people to seek help when needed.

"This campaign is very important in raising awareness about mental health conditions and encouraging a conversation which could save a life," FIFA president Gianni Infantino said. "In FIFA's Vision 2020-2023, we pledge our commitment to make football work for society, and I thank the players and Ms Enke, who have contributed to this important initiative.

"Depression and anxiety affect rising numbers of people worldwide, and young people are among the most vulnerable. Having a conversation with family, friends or a healthcare professional can be key. FIFA is proud to launch this campaign, supported by the World Health Organization and ASEAN to encourage people to #ReachOut."


Adam Peaty to take break from swimming to protect his mental health

British swimmer Adam Peaty has said he will take a month's break from the pool in order to recharge and protect his mental health ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

"It's been hard for everyone, for every sport out there," Peaty said. "It's been very very tiring. I think what's next is celebrating and having what Mel [Marshall, his coach] and me call a forced rest, where we're not allowed to touch the water for a month now.

"It is going to be a war of attrition over the next three years, we've got three major championships next season, and you'll see people who are falling off, who go all the way through ISL and World Cups, by the time they get to Paris."


Joe Root on Ben Stokes: 'I just want my friend to be OK'

Joe Root has admitted that the absence of Ben Stokes leaves a huge hole at the heart of England's team, but insists his first consideration is for the well-being of his friend.

"From my point of view, I just want my friend to be okay," Root said. "Anyone who knows Ben knows he always puts other people first. Now is an opportunity for him to put himself first, to take time to look after himself and get to a good place again.

"Cricket has to be a secondary thought. It's a long way down the line and he should take as much time as he needs. He's got my full support on that and he's been assured he's got the full support of the ECB on that. And certainly, he's got the whole team's support. More than anything, we just want Ben to be okay. He's got everyone behind him.


Tyrone Mings: My mental health plummeted before European Championship

England defender Tyrone Mings has said he struggled with his mental health ahead of the Euro 2020 opener against Croatia.

"I did have a tough time in the lead-up to the opening game against Croatia," Mings said. "I think I'm a lot more hardened to outside influences now, but my mental health did plummet and I have no shame in admitting that because there was so many unknowns about me going to that game...so I did a lot of work on that with my psychologist.

"I was given a lot of coping mechanisms -- whether it was breathing, meditation, or just learning how to bring yourself into the present moment. To stop letting your subconscious take over. It was hard. I didn't really sleep very well before that first game."


Ben Stokes to miss India series, takes an 'indefinite break from all cricket'

Ben Stokes has pulled out of England's Test series against India and will take "an indefinite break from all cricket" to focus on his mental wellbeing and continue his recovery from a finger injury.

The ECB said in a statement that it "fully supports" Stokes' decision and that it would "continue to help him during this period away from the game".

Ashley Giles, England's director of men's cricket, said Stokes had "shown tremendous courage to open up about his feelings and wellbeing."


Paul Pogba backs Simone Biles' 'undeniable strength' over mental health decision

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has praised U.S. gymnast Simone Biles after she withdrew from events at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health.

"A moment of undeniable strength from @simone_biles," Pogba said on Twitter. "We always focus on the physical aspect of health but the mental aspect is just as important. When you take care of both, you will flourish in life!"


The Simone Biles lesson: The greatest athletes can be as humanly fragile as any of us

When the pressure is so intense, sport can stop being fun for the athlete - and that's where the problems start. Simone Biles' departure from the team final and the all-round competition at the Tokyo Olympics -- where she was expected to dominate -- presents sports fans with uncomfortable truths.

The first is that athletic expectation can wear down even the most skilled, successful, best-trained and supported athlete.

The second, that our understanding of 'sports psychology' and the role of sports psychologists is skewed towards performance, not well-being.


The Undefeated: Tennis world needs to check itself after Naomi Osaka pulls out of French Open

In 1989, I was a third grader at Washington International School at the Olive Street campus across town in Georgetown. To that point in life there were two things I knew about the world outside of my neighborhood in Washington: In the morning, my classroom spoke English. In the afternoons, we spoke French. It wasn't much more complicated than that, for me. WIS was the only school I'd ever gone to, aside from preschool, and that's how the language immersion program worked.

Our French teacher was a woman named Madame Costa. I don't remember a ton about her other than that she was intensely French, from the way that she dressed to the way that she talked to the crepes she made in class if we were good on a Friday. Like most teachers of her ilk, she didn't play a whole lotta games, so to speak, and expected a strict level of order in her operations.


Metta World Peace opens up about his mental health journey and the importance of therapy

On November 19, 2004, Indiana Pacers forward Metta World Peace (then named Ron Artest) laid on the scorer's table at the Palace of Auburn Hills, former home of the Detroit Pistons, where a confrontation was afoot. With 45 seconds left and the game in hand for the Pacers, World Peace had committed a hard foul on Pistons strong man Ben Wallace, who reacted by pushing World Peace and sending him to that aforementioned spot to cool down.

Then, it happened -- a blue cup thrown by Pistons fan John Green pegged World Peace, who charged into the stands and set off a vicious melee between players and fans. It was a fit of anger that's now synonymous with World Peace's career and perhaps the perception of his personal well-being. But World Peace avowed it was less indicative of his mental health than it was retaliatory.


Mental skills coach Colleen Hacker joins espnW's Laughter Permitted to explain the idea of stress-related growth

After the U.S. women's national team lost in the 1995 World Cup, Professor Colleen Hacker joined the coaching staff to help players not with their soccer fundamentals but with their overall mental skills game.

As an expert in the psychology of peak performance with a doctorate in exercise and movement science, Hacker's message to players then is one she continues to share today: It is possible to take a challenging loss and turn it into a growth experience. It's no coincidence that, under Hacker's guidance, the U.S. team went on to win a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics followed by a World Cup win in 1999.


WNBA players reflect on challenges overcome and lessons learned in the 'Wubble'

By Dearica Hamby, Nneka Ogwumike, A'ja Wilson -- as told to Elizabeth Merrill and Mechelle Voepel

Before celebrating the 25th anniversary season, the WNBA and its 144 players had to navigate the most unusual season in their quarter-century history. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced players (some with family), coaches and support staff into a bubble in Bradenton, Florida. Isolated but not sheltered, 144 players protested in unison after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

They underwent daily testing for coronavirus. They practiced and they played. As depicted in ESPN Films' "144," the challenges were both physical and mental. A'ja Wilson, the league's reigning MVP; Dearica Hamby, the mother of a then-3-year-old daughter; and Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the executive committee of the Women's National Basketball Players Association, reflect on the challenges they overcame and the lessons they learned before, during and after their nearly 100 days inside the "Wubble."

Why Dina Asher-Smith believes it's the right time to speak openly about mental health

When Dina Asher-Smith takes her place on the starting blocks at the delayed Olympic Games this summer, she is determined to be in peak condition both physically and mentally. The British sprinter has had an extra year to prepare for one of the biggest occasions of her career and she doesn't want to leave any stone unturned.

During these unprecedented times, Asher-Smith has grown fond of the idea: "If not now, when?" There might never be another chance in her life where she will have the opportunity to learn more about herself, and the 25-year-old has adopted a renewed focus on mental health.


Paralympic swimmer and gold medalist Jessica Long on preparing for Tokyo 2021

Looking back on her life, Long never fully imagined she would be in this place. She never imagined she would be training to compete in her fifth Paralympics this summer in Tokyo. And yet she knows that every time she jumps in the swimming pool or stands on the podium, she is doing it for others who aspire to be there one day and for her younger self: the little Serbian girl who was adopted from a Russian orphanage at 13 months old.

Who was born with fibular hemimelia (she didn't have fibulas, ankles, heels or most of the other bones in her feet). Who had both legs amputated below the knees at 18 months so she could be fitted for prosthetics and learn how to walk. Long talked with espnW about how she trained through a pandemic, why she continues to find her purpose in and out of the pool, and what it's like preparing for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.


Brighton Mhlongo's new path will be lit by past experience with alcohol and loss

For former South Africa goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo, there was no real rock bottom when it came to alcohol, and there was no single thing that made him go from a teetotal professional footballer to someone with a drinking problem. However, he came out of it.

After a few sober years, though, he now faces a new loss after he was struck by what he calls a 'point blank, full-blast' shot to the face in training, resulting in the functional loss of vision in his left eye. Despite this news, Mhlongo tells ESPN why he is determined to to keep on the mentally healthy road that took him so long to find.


How women's cricket is putting equal focus on mental and physical strength

Athletes spend their days preparing their bodies to undertake extreme physical exertion but Psycho-Social Lead for the Sunrisers cricket team Kate Green is trying to make them understand the importance of working on their mental health. Working with Sunrisers' Regional Director of Women's Cricket Danni Warren, the two women want to hammer home the point that prevention can be better than a cure.

In this exclusive interview with Valkerie Baynes, the women explain that most girls don't go through an academy system that supported their personal and professional development in the same way as their male counterparts and tell ESPN what they're doing to change that.


Premier League's Joe Bryan opens up on anxiety, fear and football: He wants to help

Joe Bryan can't remember how he felt during the best moments of his career. He only recalls those two goals he scored against Brentford in the 2020 Championship playoff final, which earned Fulham promotion to the Premier League and a £170m windfall, through watching highlights. Nor can he remember the emotions of scoring a wondergoal against Manchester United for Bristol City in 2017.

But he can vividly recall the moments mid-match in which he was gripped by anxiety, and that feeling of wanting to run 100 miles away from being him in that moment. There are mornings where he wakes up "feeling like s---"; those minutes are vivid, too. "I still question whether I have a right to be playing where I am, whether I'm good enough to be where I am," he told ESPN. "I still question myself."


'This is just where I belong': Drew Robinson's return to baseball after suicide attempt

EVERYTHING IS MOVING so fast for Drew Robinson, sometimes too fast, and on Saturday night, the object traveling toward him at an uncomfortable velocity was a batted ball, lined to left field, where Drew was playing his third game for the Sacramento River Cats, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.#

Baseball doesn't come as easy as it once did, though that's to be expected. When Drew first tried to adjust to life without his right eye, simple things like filling a cup with water were difficult. Now the ball screaming toward Drew is the latest test, another referendum on whether he belongs here. It could hiss right by him and skip to the wall, lending a little more credence to those who can't see what he's doing for what it is: a miracle.


'Cricket is a game of failure' - Stuart Meaker on coping with anxiety, divorce and lockdown

When Stuart Meaker went through a divorce two years ago, he started speaking to a therapist. Realising there's no quick fix when mental health issues arise, he has continued those sessions every couple of weeks, well beyond the initial three months or so that seems standard when someone seeks help through a difficult life event.

In that time, Meaker, the Sussex seamer who was once on the fast-track to England honours, has learnt a lot about quick fixes.

"What a lot of people do when they end up going through difficult life circumstances or relationship break-ups is they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their job and their career, their cricket, whatever it is, because it's a great means of distraction," Meaker tells ESPNcricinfo.


How McLaren's Lando Norris speaking out on his own mental health helped to change lives

During the delay of the 2020 Formula One season, drivers used various strategies to keep themselves occupied. McLaren's Lando Norris tells ESPN's Nate Saunders why he decided to use his platform to be open about his mental health, and how he inadvertently helped others.


Marler calls for British and Irish Lions to take psychiatrist on tour to South Africa

England prop Joe Marler has urged the British & Irish Lions to bring a clinical psychiatrist with them when they tour South Africa later this year.

The 37-man squad for the tour was announced last Thursday and Marler has advocated that the mental wellbeing of the players has to be a priority this summer.


Ericka Goodman-Hughey: Arizona women's hoops coach Adia Barnes on balancing motherhood and career while learning to love on herself

I'm trying to get more comfortable with saying, "This is my value, and this is what I deserve and I'm asking for it."

I'm not always good at that, and most women don't demand that. We're kind of like, "Oh, whatever is given, we have to accept it." We need to start understanding our value. Recently, I agreed to a 5-year contract extension [worth $5.85 million in base salary over five years] to continue as the head coach for the Arizona women's basketball team. It made me feel appreciated, it made me feel valued, it made me feel like Arizona was investing in me long term.

I also value my home life.


Scottish striker quits football over mental health taunts

Albion Rovers striker David Cox has announced he has quit football after he said he was verbally abused by an opposition player about his mental health struggles.

The 32-year-old, who was on the bench for the Scottish League 2 game against Stenhousemuir, left the stadium at half-time after he said he was taunted about his previous suicide attempts.


Mark Ogden: English football to undertake three-day social media boycott over online abuse

English football, including clubs in the Premier League and Women's Super League, will undertake a three-day social media boycott next week in response to "the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many others connected to football."

High-profile players such as Manchester United's Marcus Rashford and Lauren James, Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold have reported that they have received racist abuse on social media platforms.


Alan Gardner: Liam Livingstone leaves IPL 2021 citing 'bubble fatigue'

Liam Livingstone, the England and Rajasthan Royals batter, has opted to return home early from the IPL, citing "bubble fatigue" after spending much of the last ten months moving in and out of biosecure environments. The Royals said that Livingstone had flown back to the UK on Monday, before India was added to a "red list" of countries from which the arrivals need to undergo a mandatory ten-day quarantine period.


Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens: Barcelona's Koeman: Lenglet struggled with social media abuse after Cadiz mistake

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said Clement Lenglet has struggled to deal with the criticism which followed his mistake in Sunday's 1-1 draw against Cadiz.

Lenglet's foul on Ruben Sobrino in the final minute of the game handed Cadiz a penalty, which they scored from, as Barca missed the chance to close the gap on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid to six points.


Ex-Man United boss Ferguson: My duty to raise dementia awareness

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has said it is his personal duty and the game's responsibility to address the problem of dementia that has impacted several former players.

The issue of dementia in the professional game was sparked by the death of England's Nobby Stiles in October and there have been calls for the issue of head injuries in sport to be given further attention.

Stiles and many of his 1966 World Cup winning teammates had been diagnosed with dementia before their deaths while United great Bobby Charlton also disclosed his diagnosis recently.


LA Galaxy forward Chicharito on personal issues: I'm not a robot

Hernandez scored just two goals in his maiden season in Major League Soccer as Galaxy missed out on the playoffs and, in February, told the LA Times he had "hit rock bottom."

The 32-year-old also said he did some soul searching at the end of last season and that he hopes people can talk more openly about their personal struggles.

"I'm not a robot, I'm not perfect," ​Hernandez said in a news conference. "It is a difficult topic to talk about, which I hope can be normalized, no matter who you are or how much money you have -- it doesn't matter, we're all humans.


Mark Ogden: Football's mental health crisis: anxiety, eating disorders fears as players stay away from counselling

The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) are increasingly concerned by the prospect of hidden mental health issues within the game after identifying a decline of more than 25% in members accessing the organisation's counselling services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since 2016, the PFA has noticed year-on-year growth in terms of its members -- including both present day and former players -- making use of its confidential counselling services provided by Sporting Chance, the sports mental health charity.

The counsellors provided by Sporting Chance enable PFA members to discuss issues such as addictive disorders, anxiety, relationship issues, eating disorders and transition from playing into retirement.

But the numbers of members using the services are down by almost 29% during 2020 and senior figures within the PFA's Player Welfare team believe that the constraints of lockdown and restrictions on social interaction are contributing to the worrying drop in speaking to counsellors.


Emily Kaplan: The NHL's struggles with mental health this season: How players are confronting anxiety and isolation

Player X is having a hard time. "I never thought I would be doing an interview like this," he says. "But yeah, this season hasn't been easy."

Player X is still on his entry-level NHL contract. He plays for a United States-based team but is from another country and is unsure when he can see his family again. He is renting a condo and admits the decorations are a little sparse. During training camp, he began struggling to fall asleep and noticed himself getting irritated on FaceTime calls with his parents or girlfriend -- sometimes even letting calls go unanswered, which is unusual for him.

Going to the rink and being able to skate always felt awesome, he explains.


Derby's Ibe: I am suffering with depression

Derby winger Jordon Ibe has said he is suffering from depression in an emotional post on Instagram.

The 25-year-old joined Championship side Derby from Bournemouth at the end of last season and has made one appearance this term. He has has not been included in a matchday squad this year under manager Wayne Rooney.

"I want to apologise to all my fans around the world," Ibe wrote on Instagram. 'I've find (sic) myself in a dark place, due to suffering with depression. It's no scheme for the media or to have my name in your mouths, I just find things hard truly.

"I appreciate all the love and messages from everyone. Times are hard in general due to this pandemic. I have the full support from my family and Derby County football club.

"I will fix myself and this situation, which I'm 100 per cent committed to. Not only for my family, close friend or my daughter but for me."


Andrew Miller: Norman Cowans: 'Kids need a pathway, and a feeling that they belong'

Norman Cowans, the first West Indies-born fast bowler to play Test cricket for England, hopes that a new initiative from his former county Middlesex can help to reignite a passion for the game in the inner-city London communities where he learnt the sport as a teenager.

Cowans, who played 19 Tests and 23 ODIs between 1982 to 1985, was an integral member of the most successful Middlesex team of all time, as well as its most ethnically representative. During his 13 years at the club, he helped secure ten trophies, including four County Championships, and claimed 532 first-class wickets in that period at 22.57.

Alongside his fellow England cricketers, Roland Butcher, Wilf Slack and Neil Williams, as well as the West Indies fast bowler, Wayne Daniel, Cowans frequently took the field for Middlesex as one of five black cricketers - a ratio that reflects the ethnic mix of such boroughs as Haringey, Harrow and Brent that fall squarely within the club's catchment area.