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Buckeye Coach Ryan Day offers life lessons for positive mental health

Student-sponsored discussion offers support and resources during pandemic

Ohio State University football coach Ryan Day recently discovered a new passion for tennis. But the boss of the Big Ten champion Buckeyes admits his game is more brute force than precision.

“The tennis coach here, Ty Tucker, has been unbelievable. He allows me to go over to the tennis courts a couple times a week and I try to hit the tennis ball as hard as I can,” Day said. “It doesn’t go in play very much, but I try to hit it as hard as I can and after 45 minutes, I feel a lot better.”

For Day, it’s less about aspirations for a new athletic career and more about managing his physical and mental well-being.

“You sweat, hit the ball, scream and yell and maybe curse at the ball. You come out feeling better about yourself and you can go on with your day. I think those things really help in having an outlet,” he said.

Having an outlet or an escape is a critical part of Day’s mental health routine. It was part of the advice and message he delivered to students as the featured speaker for a discussion on mental health during the pandemic presented by Undergraduate Student Government, Block O, Ohio Union Activities Board, Mental Health Matters, MindVersity and Student-Athlete Peer Educators.

“We all have physical health and mental health, and to take time and only really focus on your physical health and not mental health is a recipe for disaster,” Day said.

He discussed the importance of breaking the stigma of mental health difficulties, while sharing how mental health has affected him personally. He also answered student questions and explained what works in his life.

Day is a powerful advocate for mental well-being, having had a deeply personal experience with the importance of mental health: His father Ray died by suicide when Ryan was 9 years old.

“The truth of the matter is nobody knew. It was a shock to everybody in my family and everybody he knew,” he said.

Suicide is the most extreme outcome of poor mental health. However, as Day explained, mental illness can manifest in alcohol and drug abuse, infidelity, gambling addiction, high anxiety or apathy.

Day said one key to his mental well-being, in addition to smashing tennis balls, is a support system of people who love him and help him, but also tell him the truth. He said proper rest and diet make a big difference in his life, as well.

He also said it is important to recognize the natural up and down of normal life. There is value in celebrating success and achievement. It’s also okay to just hold on when you are faced with challenges.

“Life is all about ups and downs. We all go through ups and downs. When things are well and it’s on an upswing, enjoy it the best you can. Hug your family, hug your friends, get all you can get. Love it, enjoy it, laugh, have fun,” he said. “But at some point, it is going to go back down, and when it goes back down and it gets hard and it gets tough, you just have to hang on. That’s all you do is hang on because eventually, if you just hang on, it’s going to turn and it’s going to go back up. That’s just the way life works.”

Day was joined by Chief Wellness Officer and College of Nursing Dean Bernadette Melnyk, who reminded students of some of the services that exist at Ohio State to serve them.

“Please, access our resources. Engage in our programming. If we don't take the time now for good self-care, we’re going to have to take the time for illness later,” she said.

The university’s Counseling and Consultation Service provides individual and group mental health services as well as prevention and outreach programming to students. The Ohio State: Wellness app offers information and access to resources on cellphones, computers or tablets. Melnyk also mentioned a new Mask On/Mood Up campaign to promote evidence-based tactics with mask-wearing that promote mental well-being.

“Please engage in our programming because we know resilience helps to prevent mental and physical health problems,” she said.

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