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Seattle sports stars team up with US surgeon general for youth mental health summit

Recently, 150 middle and high school students from the Renton School District took a field trip to Lumen Field. But it was not your average school field trip.

While a highlight was getting autographs and taking selfies with local sports stars, they were invited there to get personal and talk about mental health.

Steve Zakuani, former Seattle Sounder and current club brand ambassador, welcomed the students.

“We’re super committed to destigmatizing mental health,” Zakuani told the students. “If you’re seeking help with your mental wellbeing, we want to make that OK. We want to encourage you, we want to give you the resources and the tools to go and seek that because everyone at some point is going to go through tough times, is going to struggle, and it shouldn’t be looked down upon to seek that help.”

RELATED | Mental health resources in Washington

The Sounders assembled an all-star cast to deliver the message, including former Seahawk Doug Baldwin

“You’re gonna go through hard times,” Baldwin said “You’re gonna go through hard times, and you’re gonna go through hard times. Just know that and expect that, and actually be grateful for the lessons that come from those hard times, because that’s what’s going to get you to the next phase of life. And you’re gonna apply that lesson to the next challenges, and that’s how you grow.”

The students also heard from Seattle Reign FC General Manager Lesle Gallimore and others from the sports and health communities. Each shared personal experiences with either their own mental health or words of encouragement.

Next, Zakuani called former Sounder Lamar Neagle to the stage with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

Murthy issued a surgeon general’s advisory on youth mental health in 2021. He asked Neagle questions about his journey through sports and life, and Neagle shared his personal struggles, including being cut by teams starting as a youth player.

“My path was very unorthodox,” Neagle said. “It was consistently getting knocked down, trying to prove myself again. And even through my pro career it was like that.”

The conversation was part of the Sounders FC, Rave Foundation, and Providence program called “We Can Be Well.”

“One of the most powerful things we can do for one another is to show up for each other,” Murthy said. “To look out for each other. It’s to be there just to even listen when somebody is having a hard time.”

WATCH | A third of youth who suffer concussions also face mental health challenges

“Give yourself grace,” Neagle added. “We’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes. We’re all trying to find our way.”

Murthy said we’re living through a youth mental health crisis, with extraordinarily high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

“There’s no shame in struggling with your mental health,” Muthy said. “It’s OK to talk about mental health, it’s OK to talk about emotions. Second, we want people to know it’s OK to ask for help. Whether that’s from a teacher, a parent, or a mental health counselor.”

It’s a message young people hear more frequently. The hope is, through the lens of sports, they’ll be even more likely to believe it.

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