As part of the NFL's Total Wellness platform, the league teamed up with Cigna to host the Youth Mental Health Forum on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. Held at Florida International University, the Forum presented to an audience of more than 200 student-athletes, parents and coaches from Miami Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS). In recognition of Suicide Prevention Month, the program focused on utilizing the platform of sports to increase awareness and decrease stigma around mental health, particularly as it relates to suicide prevention, recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health concerns, and seeking support to enhance youth emotional well-being.
The Forum, which included a powerful welcome from both M-DCPS Superintendent ALBERTO CARVALHO and PETE GARCIA, Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment for Florida International University, also included a keynote address from MARTHA and CHRIS THOMAS (parents of San Francisco 49ers defensive end SOLOMON THOMAS). Consistent throughout the day were messages about the influence that athletes hold, the many pressures society is faced with, and the ability that everyone possesses to promote a culture where all people, including student-athletes, are encouraged to engage in difficult discussions and seek the assistance and support they need to achieve overall wellness.
Panelists and guest speakers included NFL Legend and current psychology graduate student JULIUS THOMAS, Miami Dolphins Youth Programs Ambassador TWAN RUSSELL, Cigna Senior Medical Director ROBERT HAMILTON, M.D., Miami Dolphins Team Clinician DR. ROB SEIFER, Miami Dolphins Director of Player Engagement KALEB THORNHILL, Atlanta Falcons Team Clinician DR. KENSA GUNTER, University of North Carolina Senior Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Health, Well-Being & Program Outreach and NFL Legend) DWIGHT HOLLIER as well as representatives from Mental Health America of Southeast Florida, Florida International University, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In addition, individual break-out sessions for student-athletes, coaches, and parents were moderated by M-DCPS/Department of Mental Health Services staff, LIANIE CUBA, MARIE CINE, and ROBIN MORRISON.
"We have become increasingly willing to recognize that mental health is as important as physical health at all levels, including in the world of professional sports", said NYAKA NIILAMPTI, Ph.D., NFL Vice President of Wellness and Clinical Services. "We also realize that if we truly want to make a shift from a crisis management approach to one that is more prevention and early intervention based, we need to begin these discussions as early as possible. Statistics tell us that more than half of all mental health concerns begin by age 14, and almost 75% before age 24. This was an incredible opportunity to work with tremendous partners in both Cigna and M-DCPS and begin these conversations."
Each guest provided a unique perspective and personal experience to help explore the various aspects of mental health and emotional well-being. With representation from both professional sports and intercollegiate athletics, the student-athletes of M-DCPS gained insight on ways in which they can build positive mental health for themselves as well as serve as mental health ambassadors for their teammates and non-athlete peers. Additionally, parents and coaches were provided guidance around ways that they can better support their student-athletes, ensuring that they are using sports to contribute to the building of positive mental health.
"For too many young people on and off the field, mental health issues are a taboo subject they're ashamed to discuss with their doctors and families," said DR. ROBERT HAMILTON, Cigna Senior Medical Director. "At Cigna, we aim to change that and help erase the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing. We're proud to partner with the NFL and Miami-Dade Public Schools to help educate student athletes and their families about mental health and offer solutions for getting the help they need."
"We must continue to reinforce to students the importance of opening up and discussing mental wellness in individual and group settings like today's forum," said Superintendent ALBERTO M. CARVALHO. "As young athletes, it is critical that they understand the connection between performance and emotional well-being, and that they are fully aware of all resources available to seek support, if needed."
About NFL Wellness
NFL Total Wellness assists members of the NFL family in dealing with physical and mental health, family safety, lifestyle, and transition into their post-NFL playing experience lives.
The NFL Total Wellness platform empowers players to make positive health decisions; promotes help-seeking behaviors in connection with behavioral and mental health issues; and provides health and safety education for players and all members of their support network, including spouses, parents, and children. The platform expands on a host of NFL Player Engagement programs and service offerings.
Cigna Corporation (NYSE: CI) is a global health service company dedicated to improving the health, well-being and peace of mind of those we serve. Cigna delivers choice, predictability, affordability and access to quality care through integrated capabilities and connected, personalized solutions that advance whole person health. All products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, including Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Life Insurance Company of North America, Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York, Express Scripts companies or their affiliates. Such products and services include an integrated suite of health services, such as medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, vision, supplemental benefits, and other related products including group life, accident and disability insurance. Cigna maintains sales capability in over 30 countries and jurisdictions and has 165 million customer relationships worldwide. To learn more about Cigna®, including links to follow us on Facebook or Twitter, visit www.cigna.com.