Depression and anxiety are on the rise among young adults, particularly scholar-athletes striving for excellence both in the classroom and on the playing field. With the help of an alumnus and his wife, Johns Hopkins University is offering new, robust supports for its players through the Jeffrey Ma Shiu and Emily Liu Mental Health and Wellness Endowment Fund.
Established by Shiu, A&S '02, and his wife, Emily Liu, the fund supports the goals set by Brock Turnbaugh, assistant director of scholar-athlete mental health and performance and licensed professional counselor, who is creating a game plan to increase wellness initiatives for current Blue Jays.
"We admire the fact that Hopkins recognizes the importance of mental health and well-being. There's an outlet for scholar-athletes to share their feelings and seek out support," Shiu says. "We want this gift to be an additive to the infrastructure Hopkins is building. We want to give Brock more tools and give students more access and pathways."
As a 2018 JHU Men's Lacrosse alum, Turnbaugh, A&S '18, can relate to the struggles that these athletes face on a daily basis. Increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and the pressure of high expectations, both athletically and academically, all contribute to the overall well-being of the scholar-athletes.
"By creating and implementing team workshops, meeting students on an individual level, and informally stopping by practices and games, the trust and relationships continue to grow," Turnbaugh says. "This fosters an environment where scholar-athletes can actively seek the resources they need to thrive at a team level and as individuals."
While working closely with the Counseling Center and Student Outreach and Support, Turnbaugh and the whole athletics department can connect with athletes in all areas of their life—athletics, academics, and mental health.
Jennifer Baker, associate vice provost, student affairs, and director of athletics and recreation at Johns Hopkins, calls well-being a top priority. She described the endowed gift as a tangible demonstration of the department's commitment to supporting scholar-athletes.
"College campuses and athletic departments nationwide are continually seeking ways to provide their scholar-athletes a high level of support for their holistic well-being. I am so proud that Johns Hopkins is a leader in this space, and that we have partners and supporters like Jeff and Emily," Baker says. "I am excited to collaborate with both Brock and our scholar-athletes to grow our programs and offerings in the future."
"If we can help students control how they are thinking, feeling, and approaching things, it can help them be the best versions of themselves," Shiu adds.
Junior Emma Rose agrees. A midfielder on the field hockey team, Rose says she's fortunate to have a sport as an outlet because it builds time into her rigorous academic schedule for exercise and community with people she loves.
"I'm surrounded by hardworking and compassionate teammates who are ready to put in the work on and off the field in everything they do, whether it's with our schoolwork or with supporting each other," says Rose, a behavioral biology and public health studies major from Louisville, Kentucky. "It makes it so important to check in with each other, but also useful, because we all have a mutual understanding that there's so much going on for every member of our team."
Rose says the team has had a few sessions with Turnbaugh, and he is also working with athletes from multiple sports through the Hopkins chapter of Morgan's Message, which aims to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the scholar-athlete community. She says Turnbaugh supports scholar-athletes as they plan wellness events and listens to their feedback about any future programming he could create or changes he could help make. Working with Turnbaugh was especially helpful before the field hockey team's Centennial Conference matches, Rose says. (At press time, the team was heading into the final four of the NCAA tournament.)
"Brock has helped to facilitate mental performance conversations, and he has held space for our team to come together and share openly with each other. … To hear what my teammates were thinking going into post-season was so important to bring us together," Rose says. "Having mental health support built into athletics is helping to make Hopkins athletics a place where we support others who are struggling and encourage everyone to develop helpful mental tools during their time here."
Reframing perspective is one of Shiu's hopes for current and future Blue Jays as they make the most of Turnbaugh's resources.
"Scholar-athletes who take advantage of this mental health program are going to remember how they felt when they needed support. It's going to carry forward into their lives," says Shiu. "I'm proud to be a part of the university. Johns Hopkins cares about the well-being of its students. The university wants to be the leader in mental health and well-being awareness."
This story was adapted from "Gift boosts Blue Jays' well-being,", published by Development and Alumni Relations as a Why I Give story.