This Former Volleyball Star Has Vital Mental Health Advice for Young Athletes

Victoria Garrick

Being a Division I athlete is something lots of kids aspire toward, but Victoria Garrick knows firsthand how that dream can be damaging. As a volleyball player in college, she won a PAC-12 Championship and broke records. But Garrick also battled extreme depression and anxiety, as well as body-image issues. She told that story in a 2017 TED Talk called “The Hidden Opponent,” which obviously attracted some attention — it has since been viewed nearly 400,000 times.

Now a mental-health advocate, Garrick has more than 1 million followers across her social-media platforms, where she speaks candidly about the struggles she’s faced and encourages those battling their own demons. (She also founded a mental health non-profit called The Hidden Opponent, through which she tours the U.S. raising awareness.) With millions of students heading back to college at the moment, we wanted to ask Garrick how she cleared the emotional obstacles in her path — and asked her to tell us how other young people can do the same.

KCM: You’re leading the charge to destigmatize the conversation surrounding mental health. For people who may be unfamiliar with your story, why did you decide to become such a staunch spokesperson?

Victoria Garrick: It was less of a decision and more like something I felt I had to do. During my freshman year of college, I’d become riddled with anxiety, yet was so afraid to admit it to anyone. Hiding my declining mental health only made things worse, and I eventually fell into a depressive episode by the start of my sophomore year. Once I finally sought help, I began to understand what was going on inside me: I had an injury, and even though it was invisible, it wasn’t my fault nor anything to be ashamed of. This empowered me to speak out, and I was grateful to share my story for the first time on the TEDx stage, which is what jumpstarted my advocacy work. 

Watch Victoria’s TEDx talk here:

You were a student not too long ago, and I’m sure you can remember that beginning-of-the-year anxiety. Was there a piece of advice, or a mantra, that helped when you were feeling overwhelmed?

One of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve heard and learned to implement is trusting that “future you” will be able to handle whatever may come. For example, if you’re worrying about how you might handle being cut from the sports team in a month, remind yourself that a month from now you could be a wildly different version of yourself. (It would be impossible to imagine how you might act in the future when you’re not there yet!) Where you are is here, in the present moment, and the present you has everything they need to get through right now. 

A new semester can bring on a whole host of “Do’s” (I’ll do more, do better…): What would you recommend as your top three “Do not’s”?

  • Do not forget to pause and appreciate how far you have come to be here today.
  • Do not let anyone or anything else define you… only you can do that.
  • Do not forget that it’s OK not to be OK. If you need help or advice, please reach out to the people you trust in life. You’re never alone and it’s OK to not have all the answers!

You know better than anyone that student athletes have added pressure to perform. What would you say to athletes who, just a few weeks into the season, already are feeling deflated, anxious, or depressed?

My heart hurts for anyone in this position because I know these feelings all too well! First, I want to normalize this experience for anyone who is going through it. Please know that many student athletes feel this way and it doesn’t make you any less of a competitor or athlete if you’re struggling right now. Secondly, definitely reach out to your support systems or the resources on campus because they are there to help with this exact thing! And seeking help is not a sign of weakness. In the same way you’d go in for extra reps if you were struggling with technique, please go see someone if you’re struggling with your mental health. Lastly, season has only just begun and sometimes the shock of getting back into the swing of things can really take a toll. Give yourself a few weeks to do your best to adjust and get caught up with everything! (PS: Please do check out my athlete non-profit @thehiddenopponent — we’re here for you.) 

USC volleyball player teams up with The Player's Tribune
Garrick during a USC game (Photo: Mercury News)

You proudly advocate for body positivity, and have helped people understand the importance of a healthy relationship with food. How can people make dining halls, food courts on campus, or living in a sorority/fraternity house feel like a safe food space?

There’s so much that goes into a healthy relationship with food! On the surface, it’s just important to remember that your relationship with food is your own! Nobody can tell you what and how you should be eating when you know what habits help fuel you best/make you feel the best. Take the time to get in touch with your body’s needs, your emotional needs, and make decisions that are right for you. If you’re looking for more education on how to foster a better relationship with food, I highly recommend The Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens by Elyse Resch. 

What are some of the resources (books, podcasts, accounts, habits) that you find most helpful in navigating mental-health struggles?  

There’s so much great stuff online. I highly recommend people take the time to utilize the free resources, social media accounts, and information that is accessible to everyone: I’ve compiled a list of my personal favorites right here and I hope they can be of service.