Mental health advocate and TED Talk speaker Victoria Browne delivered a talk at UC Santa Barbara’s Campbell Hall on Tuesday, May 2, about mental health stigmas that student athletes face.
The UCSB Mental Health Peer Program (MHPP) sponsored the event in collaboration with a variety of UCSB and Santa Barbara City College athletic and campus organizations, according to the Shoreline description.
The conversation was moderated by fifth-year sociology major Kendall Martin and second-year sociology major Madi Myers, who both work as Mental Health Peers.
Martin first asked Browne about her personal journey with anxiety and depression in her career as a walk-on Division I volleyball player at the University of Southern California (USC).
Brown said that despite her initial excitement to start on the USC volleyball team, she became overwhelmed by the pressures of collegiate athletics, such as making game-losing mistakes.
“I started to get increasingly anxious, worrying that I would be the one who would cause us to lose,” Browne said. “I went from this girl who was living her dream and got a starting spot to not even wanting to be on the court because I was terrified to make that mistake.”
Browne then discussed how entering therapy helped her recover from her anxiety and depression and understand her emotions, and it ultimately motivated her to speak publicly about mental health stigmas that surround playing sports.
“As I was going to therapy, I started to recognize, ‘Oh, I can learn how to regulate my emotions. I can learn what’s making me anxious,” Browne said. “That’s what inevitably gave me the courage to want to speak openly about it. Because I realized … this isn’t a Victoria thing, that I failed in some way, which it feels like — this is a human thing, and not enough people are talking about it.”
Browne said that her struggles prompted her to deliver a TED Talk in 2017 titled “The Hidden Opponent,” which detailed her story as an athlete dealing with depression and anxiety. In 2019, she founded The Hidden Opponent, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness for student-athlete mental health and stigmas within sports culture, according to the organization’s website.
Browne — who has maintained a presence on social media since her time as a collegiate athlete — explained how social media has provided her a platform for sharing her stories for her growing audience.
“The irony is that the more people you attract, the bigger the platform becomes, the more eyes that are on you, the more you feel shy or uncomfortable continuing to be honest,” Browne said. “How do I open up more? How do I be more vulnerable? I just refuse to feel shame over the things that make me human.”
The discussion covered a breadth of topics, with Browne speaking on her experience with eating disorders, body positivity and neutrality, stigmas around male athletes and the importance of putting yourself first, among others.
“If you’re an athlete, you’ve heard ‘there’s no I in team,’ so don’t even think to say anything about yourself,” Browne said. “But what I realize is, I can’t even show up and help the people I love in my life if I’m not even starting or coming from a place of love and coming from a place of being well. There’s so much power when you give yourself the grace to put yourself first.”
MHPP Supervisor Gladys Koscak emphasized the importance of hearing about the mental health stigmas in athletics “from another student or a former student in a way that maybe they aren’t hearing that from someone already on campus.”
“Having someone who did play at a D1 school be talking about these things, I think, helps to open up that conversation that it’s okay to talk about mental health,” Koscak said.
When asked about whether she would go back and change anything about her experiences at USC, Browne said that she would not alter anything about her traumas.
“If I changed anything, I might not be here,” she said. “I think about that all the time, because the battles that we face in life are the ones that make us who we are, and I just don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t had those struggles.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 6 of the May 4, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.