Dam Worth It takes message beyond OSU

Alexis Campbell, News Contributor

Over a year after Oregon State University athletes Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci founded the Dam Worth It campaign to bring awareness to student athlete mental health, its impact continues to grow in a way they had not anticipated.

Created in November 2017, Dam Worth It aims to brings awareness to the unique mental health challenges of student athletes. Now, with the help of a Pac-12 grant of $60,000, Ricci and Braaten are travelling to each different Pac-12 university to share their message about ending the stigma surrounding mental health.

Braaten, a senior on the OSU Men’s Soccer team, recently returned from Arizona State University, marking five Pac-12 universities visited and seven to go. According to Braaten, the Dam Worth It presentation at ASU was attended by around 150 athletes, representing one-fourth of its student athlete population.

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“We’re inspiring them to want to start something like Dam Worth It on their own campuses,” Braaten said.

Dam Worth It uses sports as a platform to open up the conversation about mental health. This has been accomplished by dedicating games to the campaign, as well as by utilizing social media.

The reach of Dam Worth It has extended beyond the Pac-12, with people from across the nation reaching out to Braaten and Ricci on social media and through email to ask how they can start similar programs. According to Braaten, they have received messages from the Carolinas, New York, Florida, and everywhere in between.

Yet just a little over a year ago, Braaten, and Ricci, who is an OSU alumna and former member of the Women’s Gymnastics team, were unsure of where to begin with their campaign. After the suicides of multiple friends and teammates, all they knew was that they were frustrated with the way mental health in athletes was dealt with on campus.

“For athletes in particular, there is a culture of strength and not wanting to seem weak. If you seem weak, maybe your coach doesn’t trust you as much, maybe they’re not going to put you on the field because they think you’re not all there,” Braaten said.

Before receiving the Pac-12 grant, all that Ricci and Braaten could do was reach out to students. They began by creating a promo video. 

“We couldn’t really do anything financially, we didn’t have a lot of money, so we decided that one thing we could do was use our platform as athletes to talk about the stigma around mental health,” Braaten said.

The week that Dam Worth It publicly launched in November, the suicide of another athlete at Washington State University brought greater media attention to the conversation surrounding mental health. That week, USA Today and Sports Illustrated came to interview Braaten and Ricci. According to Braaten, the immediate media attention focused on Dam Worth It led them to grow much faster than they expected.

For Braaten, the day that they learned they had received the Pac-12 grant was special in more than one way. It was the birthday of his late teammate.

“He would have been turning 21 that day, and we got this grant to go and take what we were doing, which was in part inspired by him and his spirit, on the day of his birthday,” Braaten said.

At OSU, every one of the university’s 17 NCAA sports now dedicates a game to DAM Worth It. At these games, Ricci and Braaten sit with OSU’s Counseling & Psychological Services at a table where students can talk to them and learn more about mental health resources.

Although other large universities often have one or more counselors on their athletic staff, athletes at OSU did not have this resource until recently. Since the creation of the campaign, OSU Athletics has added a psychologist to the staff who can help athletes with the unique challenges that they face.

Braaten believes that in the time since DAM Worth It was created, mental health has become a less stigmatized topic.

“These are really big strides that we’re making. It’s hard to measure stigma but it feels as if more and more people are wanting to talk about it, and wanting to deal with it,” Braaten said.

Lanesha Reagan, graduated from OSU alum and a volleyball player, has spoken publicly about her struggles with mental health during her time as a student athlete. Like Braaten, Reagan found that it was difficult for her to show any vulnerability as an athlete.

“It can just be such an overwhelming and trapped feeling that you have no one to talk to, and everyone expects you to only be grateful for the opportunity to play college sports you have,” Reagan said in an email.

Reagan sees athletes becoming more open about their struggles with mental health as a result of Dam Worth It.

“Sometimes it only takes a few people, and a lot of hard work, to open that door and create a change,” Reagan said via email.

Since Ricci has already graduated and Braaten is set to graduate this June, an upcoming goal for Dam Worth It is to ensure that the campaign continues on even when both of its founders have left OSU. According to Braaten, he plans on creating a committee made up of both athlete and non-athlete students that will continue the work of Dam Worth It as a mental health campaign for everyone, not just athletes.

Nicole Schroeder, a junior majoring in management and marketing, as well as a member of the Women’s Golf team, has assisted in planning the future of Dam Worth It. Schroeder serves as the chair of the Wellness Committee within Student Athlete Advisory Committee. The Wellness Committee, created as a response to Dam Worth It, addresses mental health amongst other things.

“My role has been learning about it a lot more and helping to pass the torch on,” Schroeder said.

According to Schroeder, the friendships she has developed at OSU with athletes who are in different sports is uncommon among Division One athletes and has been in part fostered by Dam Worth It.

“We’re all Beavers, we’re all here to compete, we all have the same goals and being not okay is okay. It has helped to tie us all together in recognizing that we’re not alone in this,” Schroeder said.