Donovan Edwards inspires young athletes to Open up about mental health

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Mental health among athletes is a topic rarely talked about, but it is an issue that is on the rise, especially among young athletes. Donovan Edwards, starting running back for the Michigan Wolverines, is using his success as a college football player and his struggles with mental health to encourage, educate and inspire young athletes.

In March, Edwards spoke at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Swanton, Ohio, to talk to the students about the adversity he has faced, including the death of his mother when he was two years old.

“I think the thing for me was when I was 18. I could look inside myself and feel blessed to have my father support me and my brother through a lot of trauma. I didn’t have the motherly nurture that a human needs, and he had to step up,” Edwards said.

To Edwards, the loss of his mother pushed him to excel in football, despite the pain of her loss. He went on to win a CFP National Championship in 2023 and received the Big Ten Championship Game MVP Award in 2022.

Edward’s manager, Morgan Banta said that his struggles are also his motivation. “He is a great football player and an even better person. He doesn’t hide his emotions, he uses them to be better,” Banta said.

Edwards explained to the Holy Trinity students that adversity does not have to be a bad thing. You can struggle and need help and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

“Adversity makes you who you are. If you rise above that adversity, it builds your character. Look within yourself and what your purpose is and use what you have dealt with to grow,” Edwards said.

Edwards was not shy about sharing details about his mental health difficulties as a teen. He described how his loss caused him to be rebellious when he was growing up and that he was often made and confused as a kid. But he encouraged the students to open up about those feelings, rather than keep them hidden.

“To be able to feel those things and talk about it with someone, whether it is a friend, parent, or a therapist, is a huge help,” Edwards said.

Banta notices how Edwards reacts to adversity.

“I think he possesses an immense amount of self-awareness that has allowed him to recalibrate any time he feels a situation is not right for him,” she said. “This allows him to not only grow the body, but the mind and soul as well, in this state, you are consistently looking for ways to better yourself even when things are not going your way, and this mindset has allowed for him to trust the process.”

Most importantly, Edwards showed that being a high achiever isn’t as important as being a good person.

“I understand that I’m a great football player but I’m also a great person, being a good person is the most important thing you can be,” Edwards said.

Bravery off the field from athletes like Edwards will help further break the stigma of mental health in athletics. The students all had questions to ask Edwards, but the question that stood out the most was, “How do you keep going when you’re struggling?”

To which Edwards answered, “Struggle is what makes you stronger, if you never struggle, or you give up, you will always be the same, you will never improve. That motivates me to keep going, no matter the circumstances.”

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