UMass teams up with Hidden Opponent to advocate for mental health

The Minutewomen wear green hair ties and arm bands in game against Davidson

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Sophie Weller/ Daily Collegian

By Sophie Weller, Assistant Sports Editor

Streamers and signs decorated the fence surrounding Rudd Field for the Massachusetts women’s soccer team’s game against Davidson, where UMass collaborated with Hidden Opponent, a nonprofit organization focused on advocating for the mental health of student-athletes.

Hidden Opponent was founded in 2019 by Victoria Garrick, a former Division I women’s volleyball player for the University of Southern California. Having battled through anxiety and depression herself, Garrick aimed to create a space that was safe for all student-athletes.

With green bows in their hair and green bands on their arms, the Minutewomen lined up at midfield, joined by the officials and the Wildcats to take a moment of silence prior to the game in honor of all those that have been lost to mental health issues. Afterwards, it was Bella Mendoza in net, which was fitting as the junior goalkeeper is a campus ambassador for Hidden Opponent.

“It’s just an organization striving to break the stigma on student-athlete mental health, and bringing awareness to it, that it is a real thing,” Mendoza said. “I think it’s important that we had a game to address the issue.”

Mendoza went through her own mental health struggles last year, fighting through what she explained was “one of the lowest points in my life.”

“My best friend, she saved my life. And I think that’s kind of what sparked something inside me to want to make a change and take the next step to get involved in any way I possibly could,” Mendoza said.

The best friend in question: Lauren Bonavita. She, along with the rest of the Minutewomen, helped make posters that lined the fence for Sunday’s game.

“It meant so much to me,” Mendoza said. “It’s very heartwarming to know that everyone cares so much and that everyone takes it seriously, and there’s so many people, not only on our team, but in the athletic department that cares so much about this and think it’s something that needs to be talked about.”

As a campus ambassador, Mendoza is joined by Abby Packard, a softball player, and Andrew Chabon, a former track and field athlete. This was the first event for Hidden Opponent this year at UMass, but they hope to have more at football, hockey, and basketball games.

“We’ve gone through mental health training,” Packard said. “We are just building on our campus, but it’s in all 50 states at this point and it’s in a ton of universities.”

With over 800 campus ambassadors this year in the United States across college and high school, Hidden Opponent is continuing to grow.

“Realistically, it’s not just student-athletes, everyone’s mental health matters,” Chabon said. “But we understand that athletes are often found to be these kind of higher role models, have different standards who aren’t able to have the same level of vulnerability that ‘normal’ people have.”

The main message Hidden Opponent is trying to convey is that every person, and specifically student-athletes, are not alone.

“We talk about it a lot and encourage those conversations to be had,” head coach Jason Dowiak said. “It’s a big problem and it’s something that’s quite scary because we’re seeing too many situations happen where people aren’t feeling like living is the best option for them. So, it’s just we’re trying to help raise awareness and keep that conversation going in the direction where more student athletes do have the confidence and comfort to go talk about how they’re feeling.”

Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SophieeWellerr.