SHERMAN, Texas - This week, the NCAA launched its #BreakTheStigma campaign, a social media effort to bring awareness to mental health. The goal, as indicated by the campaign's hashtag, is to do away with the stigma surrounding mental health issues in general, and among student-athletes in particular. Austin College men's basketball player Justice Mercadel has been involved with the efforts to break the stigma as a member of the National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, beginning with his role with the Tell My Story Challenge.
Mercadel, who earlier this week was elected as the new president of the Austin College SAAC, has been involved with that group throughout his time at Austin College. The rising senior from Little Elm went on to become one of Austin College's representatives with the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference SAAC, and from there became the conference's representative with the national committee. It was as a member of the National SAAC that Mercadel met Emory University baseball player NJ Kim, who at the time was the committee's chair. Kim, a Plano native, had the vision of the Tell My Story Challenge, with Mercadel getting involved in the early stages.
"We bonded over the same goals, and of course playing basketball a few times," said Mercadel. "The goal of our movement was to make it known that those athletes and students alike who were going through mental struggles, whether they be depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, and so forth, weren't alone."
Together they worked to create social media accounts and reach out to different organzations across all NCAA Divisions, as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Georgia, to become involved. Other schools that have become involved in the movement include Johns Hopkins University, Texas Wesleyan University, George Washington University, and Dallas Baptist University, among others.
This week, the National SAAC turned its focus on th #BreakTheStigma campaign, in which student-athletes created videos of themselves supporting the movement by doing what they love and breaking a pencil, illustrating their commitment to the cause.
"Whatever movement you choose, it's great for students and student-athletes everywhere to join something bigger than themselves and pave the way for those coming up behind them," said Mercadel. "Our job as SAAC representatives at every level is to leave our institutions better off than when we arrived."