Q&A: Scott Nelson opens up about Mental Health
Scott Nelson is a college football player at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Scott and I went to high school together at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with him about mental health in quarantine. There is a serious issue regarding mental health in young men, Scott and I have both been affected by mental illness in serious ways. Our conversation shines a light on day-to-day struggles and what we can do to take better care of our health. We hope to provide comfort to anyone who is struggling and feels alone on this journey of life.
Q: What mental health struggles have you faced in your life? What steps have you taken to overcome these?
A: I have had a few mental struggles throughout my time. Most of them have been in college. During my first year of playing football, I got hurt and missed a few games. During that time I could not play I felt like I struggled to focus on anything but what was going wrong. The next season, I tore my ACL and meniscus in the first game of the season and missed the rest of the year. This was one of the hardest times of my life. I felt detached from the rest of the team and in college sports, those are all of your friends. Later in the fall, one of my really good high school friends Zach Winston committed suicide. The combination of these two incidents made the hardest time for me in my life. I just wanted to get away from everything going on. My teammates and friends were great, but I wanted to be with my high school friends. Some steps that I have taken include reaching out and calling my friends a lot more. I promised myself that I would never let myself miss something like this again, so I pay more attention to what people post on social media and reach out to them if anything feels off.
Q: How has mental health and mental illness impacted your life?
A: Mental health has impacted my life by completely opening my mind up to a world that I am not fully aware of. Before these incidents, I did not prioritize mental health as much as I do now.
Q: Typically, all of your days are scheduled and packed with class, workouts, practice, etc. What have you done during quarantine to take care of your mental health with all of this unusual downtime? What did quarantine teach you about yourself? And your mental health?
A: Quarantine has allowed me to spend a lot of time with my family and my girlfriend that I usually do not get. It has been the longest time I have been home for over three years. I have tried to soak up the time with them as much as possible before the season starts. Quarantine has taught me that I care more about the people I am with compared to the situation that I am in. If you are with people who truly love and care about you, that is all the happiness I need.
Q: Do you practice any daily exercises (physical or mental) that you find beneficial for your mental health?
A: While at school we do a lot of mindful practices, but while I have been home during quarantine, I have taken up yoga a lot more. I think this will benefit me both physically and mentally.
Q: Mental illness and mental health are very important topics for young men, if you could go back and talk to your high school self, what is some advice you’d give to high school Scott?
A: Despite sports being such an important part of my life, I would try to tell young Scott that there are much more important things than sports. Being a good friend and checking up on those you know and love is so important and a major priority to me.
Q: Has your faith played a role in your mental health? And how you attack each day?
A: My faith has been tested and defined during these past 10 months. I did not know what God’s plan was when this first happened to me when I got hurt. I still don't fully know why or why what happened to Zach (Winston) happened. However, I trust that God has a plan for everything. I think that he wanted me to gain some perspective on my sport and life in general.
Q: How do you deal with setbacks?
A: Working hard and remembering why you started doing what you do is the best way to deal with setbacks in my opinion.
Q: When people have a lot on their plate, its common to feel overwhelmed and tied down, you often have busy jammed packed days, how do you deal with balancing it all? How do you balance your priorities?
A: Planning is the best thing you can do. You may not have a lot of time to accomplish a lot but you need to make a decision in your mind what you are going to do throughout the day so you do not waste any of the free time that you do have.
Q: Do you have any friends/coaches/ teammates at school that you can count on when you need someone to talk to? How important is that?
A: I think there are a lot of people at school that I can talk to. I feel very comfortable with my group of close friends at school, and then our coaches do a great job of making a welcoming atmosphere where you feel like you can talk to any of them about all sorts of personal things going on in your life. I think that is very important. Wherever you are, you need to know that you have people around you that you can go to and talk about anything.
Q: There is an issue with the stigma of mental illness especially in young men, you and I have both been deeply affected by suicide, depression, and anxiety. Why do you think it is such a big issue? What steps can we take to help fix this issue?
A: I think that stigma is something that needs to be broken and talked about more. If it was talked about more, I do not think that fewer people would go through these mental illnesses, but the people around them may feel better about how they would be able to help. I never thought that it will get to that point, but once you go through it once, you are changed forever. Creating conversations like this, and having people speak out and influencing the thoughts of young men can change what people think. I think there needs to be more teaching and conversations about mental health and how we can help each other through the difficult times that we know we are going to endure.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255