Last Tuesday, the athletic department and the Bowdoin Student Athlete-Advisory Committee (BSAAC) hosted former Division I volleyball player and TED talk speaker Victoria Garrick Browne, who discussed mental health and athletic performance in front of a packed crowd at Kresge Auditorium. The talk was sponsored by the department’s Leadership and Empowerment Through Athletic Principles (LEAP) Initiative.
Garrick Browne was a college volleyball player and a four-year starter at the University of Southern California (USC). She currently has over one million followers on TikTok and works as a podcast host and mental health advocate. Her large social media presence and following meant that students were already lined up outside Kresge a half hour before the event. The auditorium quickly reached its capacity, and the athletic department opened up a room in Druckenmiller Hall to livestream the event to the remaining attendees.
Garrick Browne began by describing how, even when she was achieving her collegiate volleyball dreams at the USC, her mental health suffered.
“[Playing] became a highly scrutinized, analytic performance. It used to be this thing where I played free because I was confident, and all of a sudden I was overthinking every single thing that I did,” Garrick Browne said. “I’d be in the locker room before games, looking in the mirror, hands shaking, trying not to cry.”
Garrick Browne remarked on the importance of being able to identify and accept negative thoughts.
“Eighty percent of our thoughts everyday are negative,” she said. “When you have these thoughts come into your mind, it’s all about recognizing that you’re going to have tons of thoughts, but you don’t have to grab it, pull it down and believe it to be true.”
Garrick Browne acknowledged that struggling with performance anxiety can be very different from facing a mental illness. She emphasized that positive thinking is often not effective in these cases.
Garrick Browne suffered from depression and told the story of a time she was walking to class and was so overwhelmed that she hid behind a bush and started to sob.
“The funny part is, while I was crying, I was peering through my tears, checking my watch, because I can’t be late to class, and I don’t have time to cry,” Garrick Browne said.
Garrick Browne talked about how the stigma surrounding mental illness makes it hard to seek help, especially in a competitive setting.
“I felt like if I told anyone what I was feeling, my teammates wouldn’t trust me. Why would they want me next to them on the court if they knew I had no confidence in myself? Why would my coach want to play me?” Garrick Browne said. “Maybe if I told anyone how bad my anxiety was, it would make my deepest inner fear true: that I wasn’t good enough to be here.”
She said that eventually seeking out professional resources was life changing, and that even if someone is not ready to see a therapist or go to counseling, opening up to teammates, friends or family members is still a meaningful step in the right direction.
Garrick Browne also discussed the negative impact social media can have on mental health. She displayed photos that she posted on her Instagram page in college, all in which she was smiling or with friends, and described how she was actually struggling when they were taken. She even showed a photoshopped picture she posted during her sophomore year to prove how deceiving social media can be.
Women’s basketball player Ali Meade ’23 attended the talk with her team.
“I’m a huge fan and listen to [Garrick Browne’s] podcast,” Meade said. “I’m leaving feeling super inspired. It’s refreshing to know that a lot of the things you feel as an athlete, everyone else is feeling too.”
BSAAC president Julia Arsenault ’23 was glad to see Garrick Browne’s message resonate with students. She hopes BSAAC is able to continue its efforts to destigmatize mental health in the athletic department and on campus.
“Having [Garrick Browne] here seemed like a great way to continue our journey with bringing mental health to the forefront of athletics,” Arsenault said. “I hope other students took away the message of being really intentional about caring for yourself [and] treating mental health as you would treat your physical health.”