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Virginia Beach teen helps fellow student-athletes tackle mental health issues

Sports can be just as mental as it is physical. Will Bland is normalizing conversations about mental health, and his efforts are proving to be a game-changer.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — "Excessive workloads in school, poor mentality, high expectations, anxiety, a loss of confidence," it's an unseen competitor for some student-athletes-- mental health.

Will Bland, who graduated from Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach last week, is helping them talk about it.

"When we're talking about the pressure that we put on ourselves or others put on us... especially in the 757, there's such an importance on being successful, your performance in sports," said Bland, who played point guard for the Princess Anne High School Cavaliers basketball team during his high school career. 

Near the start of his senior year, Bland formed the Student-Athletes Mental and Emotional Health Alliance, or SAME-H. The group promotes mental health among young athletes and tackles the stigma in sports culture.

"We can learn from each other and then bring in guest speakers to learn about how we can grow as more aware human beings for our mental health... in the classroom and in our social environments, on the field, on the court," Bland said.

SAME-H met throughout the school year for students to speak openly about mental health without the fear of being judged.

"Vulnerability is welcomed as long as, you know, we are valuing each other's experiences," Bland said. "Being able to talk about different things, without being labeled as weak or soft."

Bland said he hopes the group is a safe space for young athletes to feel supported, appreciated, and assured that their health is more important than the game.

"The resources exist, you know, to learn and to remain stable, but also to create fellowship," Bland said. "You may not even be experiencing a problem, but it is important to know that you need to prioritize your mental well-being."

SAME-H is not just open to high school athletes across Hampton Roads. All students are welcome to join. The group hopes to meet over the summer.

Meanwhile, Bland is gearing up to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall where he plans to continue playing basketball.

You can follow and reach out to SAME-H on Instagram.

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