This former football player is on a mission to help student-athletes and coaches struggling with mental health issues

As a college athlete, Marcus Alston realized that there wasn’t a support network for coaches and players to deal with mental health issues. So he started one. Now the former football player runs Alston For Athletes (@alstonforathletes), an organization that focuses on student-athlete mental health.

“Injuries and mental health – especially in athletics – go hand in hand. We really preach being in top physical shape but really not preaching having your mind in top shape,” Marcus says.

Marcus was inspired to start Alston For Athletes after his own experiences with mental health as a biracial student-athlete. In high school, he played both football and basketball, then went on to play Division 1 AA Football. Marcus shares that he didn’t have the easiest transition from high school into college. After having four surgeries in a three-year period and then losing his grandmother one month into his first semester, he struggled with situational depression.

“Things started to get better when I was seeking therapy, so I could see how an athlete who’s had their first injury and hasn’t had any type of mental health or mental resiliency skills taught to them, it may be really difficult for them to get through that,” Marcus says.

He explains that athletes go through many ups and downs throughout their seasons, and while they can confide in their coaches for support, coaches don’t have formal mental health training. “To me, that just made no sense at all,” he comments.

Alston For Athlete’s solution is a legislative idea to require all coaches at public institutions to go through formal mental health training. This will equip coaches to recognize symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, substance abuse and eating disorders and give them the tools to serve as first responders, ultimately triaging an athlete to a mental health professional who can help.

“Thinking about all the young student-athletes who are still struggling and suffering is really what keeps me going,” Marcus says. “I know that I’ve had some difficult circumstances that I have had to overcome, but I also have to remember that there are people out there who have it worse. It really just motivates me to keep going because I know there is still so much work that has to be done.”

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