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Atlanta Falcons tight end shares how mental health can weigh during tough competitions

Atlanta Falcons tight end is open about his mental health struggles.

ATLANTA — Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions of attempted suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.

Two Team USA athletes are speaking out about their mental health struggles amid the intense pressure to win. This comes during the height of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“I want to medal. I want to medal in multiple disciplines," Mikaela Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin has yet to medal with two events left. She skied out of her first two events and finished 9th in her third one.

“Sometimes it’s a lot to live up to, but that’s also my own fault," Shiffrin said about her recent performance.

Shiffrin is also skiing at a fragile time in her life. While training for the 2022 Beijing Games, Shiffrin lost her biggest cheerleader: her father. Overcoming grief, she said she often has to overcome performance anxiety.

“You’re tired, or you’re nervous, or you’re just feeling generally sluggish," Shiffrin said. "It doesn’t click very often. You just have to know how to perform when things aren’t clicking.”

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Jamie Anderson fell multiple times during the slopestyle competition. She said what happened wasn't physical but a mental breakdown the night before finals. 

The mental aspect of competing has surfaced over the last two years, more prominently after Olympic gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of several events during the Summer Games in Tokyo last year. She said she was suffering from 'the twisties.'

“I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out," Biles said. "We should be out here having fun, and sometimes that’s not the case.”

Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst battled anxiety and depression after getting the 'yips' as a minor league baseball player. That's where nerves affect performance. Those struggles became dangerously close to terminal, he said.

“It’s been a whirlwind the last seven years of my life from attempted suicide to addiction issues," Hurst said, opening up about his mental health journey.

Hurst said he woke up in a hospital, handcuffed to a bed and covered in blood after his suicide attempt in 2016. Hurst added that was rock bottom for him, so he quit abusing substances and cleaned his life up.

Hurst and his mom Cathy started the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation when he played for the Baltimore Ravens. 

“Our foundation focuses on mental health," Hurst said. 

The foundation helps student-athletes, veterans, and military members, and the work led to Hurst receiving the 2021 NFL Players Association Alan Page Community Award.

“Whatever I can do to help, use my name and our family foundation to give back and do whatever we need to do, we’re going to do it," Hurst said. 

This is a personal mission for the Hurst family. Hurst's uncle and cousin died by suicide, and he hopes speaking up and showing other athletes it's OK not to be OK can change the culture around competing.

    

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