Dukes Let's Talk encourages student athletes to open up about mental health

Many student athletes feel pressure to perform and be their best at all times. This external battle impacts them internally as well. Dukes Let’s Talk gives JMU student athletes a safe space to talk about their mental health. Women’s Basketball player, Nikki Oppenheimer, says, “For a while, there was like kind of a stigma around mental health especially with athletes but when it comes to your mental health it’s just like your physical health and you need to take care of it. You can’t do your best when you don’t feel your best.”

Even though the program was designed to talk about their mental health as a student athlete, many take this opportunity to talk about other stresses they face. Sophie Bollinger, cross country runner, describes that “having this space to talk with my peers about our experiences being student athletes and college students in general and also just human beings. It makes me feel a lot less alone and it’s helpful to know that I have people that I can reach out to when I’m struggling.”

The program is led mostly by the athletic trainers and mental health specialists, yet the athletes are encouraged to lead discussions as well. Baseball player Dallas Jackson stated, “with everything that’s going on in the world I was very passionate about the current events that were going on across the world, I thought it would be awesome to have a platform like Dukes Let’s Talk to talk about those types of events."

Athletic trainer Lauren Dander is grateful to JMU for helping her create this program. Lauren Sander, the assistant athletic trainer mentioned, “We often focus so much on their physical abilities and I think that JMU is a place where we really do care about our student athletes as whole people.”