May 8, 2020
This month, Beyond Sport recognizes Global Goal 3, Good Health and Well-Being, which includes a key target on action to promote mental health. As we live through and come out on the other side of the current pandemic, it has been great to see individuals and organizations stepping up to support this goal and help strengthen communities.
For years, NFL Hall of Famer and Beyond Sport Ambassador, Brian Dawkins' unmatched blend of passion and motivation has been an inspiration to many in and out of the game. During his powerful 2018 Hall of Fame induction speech, he openly discussed the issues that had led him to thoughts of suicide early on in his career. A survival at all costs mindset and an inability to articulate his emotions – typical of the type of environment he grew up in – was almost his un-doing. But with personal and professional help, Brian developed a disciplined approach to life, greater self-awareness and the ability to open up, gaining the skills he needed to succeed.
The reaction to his speech made him realize the potential his life experiences had to help others with similar issues, which led him to establish the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation. The first initiative of the Foundation is to provide students with tools, information and coping mechanisms to better be able to navigate their mental heath starting from when they are young -- helping them to own their 'cerebral wellness'.
In collaboration with our partners at social impact education innovator, EVERFI, Inc., he has launched an online interactive, digital mental health and wellness course for students in grades 8 - 10 starting in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida with plans to expand to Philadelphia and beyond.
The hour-long Mental Wellness Basics program covers four topic areas through interactive scenarios, activities and Q&A through a public health lens, including: (1) The science behind mental wellness, (2) Overcoming stigmas, (3) Establishing effective coping strategies, and (4) Seeking help from others and supporting those in need. Online lessons are accompanied by robust offline lesson plans and discussion guides to extend the concepts, skills, and strategies learned in the course. Teachers and parents also receive the tools and resources allowing them to continue to encourage and support students throughout their journey.
According to the CDC, mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day.
"Some of the things I lived through in my neighborhood normalized trauma for me. I know what it feels like to not have the tools or know-how or if I could talk to anybody," said Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation President, Brian Dawkins. "I hope this is something that will bless young people - and even adults - with information and coping mechanisms to better be able to navigate life while they are young and trying to find their way. Especially during these challenging times, I want them to know someone out there really cares about their well-being and wants them to have a successful life."
Stigma about mental illness can result in misunderstandings, discrimination and treatment avoidance. EVERFI data indicates that students are most likely to reach out to a friend (45 percent) or parent (24 percent) when experiencing stress or emotional challenges. Only three percent indicated that they would reach out to a counselor, while five percent would not reach out to anyone at all. The course provides learners with accurate information about mental health disorders, the sharing of peer experiences with mental illness, and messaging that treatment is effective and available.
“It is critical to approach the challenge of mental health with awareness from all perspectives,” said EVERFI Founder and President, Jon Chapman. “We wanted to design a program that benefits those who are impacted by mental health challenges, those who want to build and maintain positive mental health, and those who have the opportunity to positively impact the mental health of a friend or peer.”
On May 7, Dawkins hosted an Instagram Live 'Dawk Talk' on mental wellness for Mental Health Awareness Month with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Derrick Gunn, speaking on his journey, why he wants to help young people take control of their mental health, his journey, launching the course in Jacksonville...and some football.
In recognition of the current situation, EVERFI has made the course available across the US, though the version with Dawkins messaging for students is currently only accessible to Duval County schools.
We’re proud to support and facilitate the efforts of the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation through our advisory arm, thinkBeyond to provide inspiration, education and resources to youth, families and communities in need. Brian was also a key part of our inaugural Stay in the Game Forum whose Network is made up of sport, health care, social change organizations using sport as a platform and catalyst to end stigmas and promote mental wellness.
Both EVERFI and Brian will be taking part in sessions at next month's Beyond Sport Workshop Week.