After the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Atlanta Falcons 40-39 on Sept. 20., Atlanta tight end Hayden Hurst approached Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott to thank him for talking openly about his struggles with mental health. Soon after, the two announced they would be forming a mental health coalition.
Earlier in April, Prescott’s brother Jace committed suicide, which Precott largely attributes to the passing of their mother. Since then, Prescott has decided to be more public about his own struggles with depression and anxiety. “I think being open about it and not holding those feelings in was one of the better things for me,” said Prescott during a virtual press conference.
Hurst spoke with ESPN after the brief encounter with Prescott. “I thought it was awesome for a guy to come out and talk about that topic and use his platform to try and help and save lives,” he said. “I’ve got nothing but respect for him because I know how hard it is going through stuff like that.”
Hurst began to play football for the University of South Carolina in 2015. He has suffered from an anxiety disorder since he was 19. In January 2016, he attempted suicide. After recovering from the attempt, he started psychological therapy to address his depression and anxiety.
Hurst has been open about his mental health. In 2018, Hurst launched the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation, aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues in children and adolescents by funding mental health services and programs. By sharing his story, Hurst hopes to help adolescent athletes come to terms with their mental health struggles and reach out for help. “The goal is to kind of clip the kids now, before something dramatic happens and they don’t have the tools to deal with it,” Hurst told ESPN staff writer Vaughn McClure in May.
Prescott also set up a foundation called the Faith Fight Finish Foundation in honor of his late mother and her fight with colon cancer. The foundation aims to fund further cancer research and help young athletes overcome adversity. Although Prescott and Hurst have been dedicated to philanthropic endeavors, they both have a strong motivation to raise awareness surrounding mental health struggles. As a result, Hurst and Prescott decided to cooperate with each other on mental health initiatives.
Due to the long-held stigma around mental health, a lot of athletes are hesitant to seek help. Yet, mental health problems are certainly prevalent, with one in five people experiencing mental illness in the US during their lifetime, according to Mental Health First Aid. Moreover, the ongoing pandemic has produced even more suffering due to forced isolation, financial instability and loss of loved ones.
As athletes continue to raise awareness of mental health issues, colleges and universities have joined in the movement, working to boost their mental health programs. The Mental Health and Wellness Cabinet is the first major public initiative of Big Ten Conference commissioner Kevin Warren. The Cabinet consists of 31 experts from 14 institutions of the league. “This is all about the student-athletes, to tell how much we love, admire, respect, appreciate them, to give them the resources that we’re here, they can talk about it,” Warren told ESPN.