Depression drove her close to suicide. Now, Olympian Raven Saunders wants to ‘destigmatize mental health’

As she circled previous a drop-off alongside a Mississippi freeway, the urge to veer off the highway in direction of the towering timber beneath was virtually overwhelming.

“It got worse and worse and worse and worse till it all boiled over … I remember in the morning, just going through the motions, kind of being in a daze, having things to do, but not really having any motivation or any care to really get anything done.

“Then hopping in my automotive and driving and taking a look at that spot.”

A few months before, Saunders had considered how the chances of survival would be slim if someone was to drive off the edge of that same drop-off she now circled past.

However, it was an impromptu text to a former therapist — “actually a last-ditch effort” — that saved her life. She soon received a response, providing her with the reassurance and courage to go home and get the help she needed.

Today, Saunders is preparing for the US Olympic Trials in June. With the prospect of her second Olympics looming, she wants to “destigmatize mental well being” and help others who, like her, can get caught up in cycles of depression and anxiety.

More than three years on from that day in January, she can now reflect on how her struggles as a student athlete led to her lowest moment.

“Mentally and emotionally, faculty was exhausting,” says 25-year-old Saunders.

“It wasn’t essentially the work, as a result of I can get the work achieved, nevertheless it was the pressures and stresses and all of those obligatory issues that you simply had to do and locations you had to be that for me appeared pointless, as a result of I used to be there to throw the shot put.

“I got to a place where, coming back from the Olympics, I was questioning who I was. I was down because it’s like I’m being put back into this place that I don’t necessarily want to be in.”

Saunders’ despair was exacerbated by an harm heading into 2017. Despite successful the USA nationwide championship title that yr, she additionally misplaced her NCAA title and completed a disappointing 10th on the world championships in London.

Saunders placed fifth in the shot put at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

When her performances dipped, so too did her broader outlook on life; it meant being at school turned much more difficult.

“Track was my first love … (it) gave me that oomph to push in the environment that I was in,” says Saunders.

“I wasn’t necessarily fulfilled because being a young, Black, LGBTQ woman in America and being in Mississippi — the (most) old school of old school places that you can find in America — it was really hard going through a phase of trying to learn and find myself in a place where I didn’t fully feel accepted.

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“Through all of that, that turned the hardest factor. It’s like I’m attempting to study to discover myself, however I am unable to try this. And the one factor I’ve is monitor after which when monitor goes unsuitable, it is like I’ve nothing.”

While she continues to experience depressive episodes, Saunders’ prior experiences have equipped her with tools to try to keep on top of her mental health.

She says she’s “eternally grateful” to the University of Mississippi for helping her get checked into mental health institutions at the start of 2018, and also highlights the support she’s received through therapy.

“It (remedy) helped rather a lot,” says Saunders, “having the time to actually work on the issues personally that I had been coping with, issues actually since childhood.

“It was nice to be able to have somebody that all of the weight that I’m bearing — I don’t have to carry it by myself.”

Being in a position to converse candidly with a close group of buddies has additionally proved helpful, as too has meditation.

“It gives me a chance to self-reflect and really talk to myself,” Saunders provides.

“Everyone thinks that meditation is like, ‘Oh, you have to be quiet, silent, and your mind has to be clear and free.’ And that’s totally not how I use it.

“I exploit it as a spot of simply being with myself and actually accepting sure issues and studying that the robust instances — they move; the obstacles — you overcome them. No matter what it’s in that second, it is going to get higher.”

Through mental well being initiative Well Beings, a short documentary about Saunders’ journey with depression was released earlier this month as part of the campaign group’s “Out of the Dark” web series.

Since speaking publicly about her experiences from the past five years, Saunders has been overwhelmed by the response — “it has been help, it has been love,” she says.

Saunders has shared her journey with depression in the hope of helping others.
Her focus now could be on attempting to attain the Tokyo Olympics, which begin on July 23 having been postponed by a year amid the pandemic. The shot put trials take place on June 24 in Eugene, Oregon.

Saunders has been renowned for her strength ever since high school when he was given the nickname “Hulk,” and it was through a basketball coach that she was first encouraged to take up shot put as a teenager.

She won a state championship in her first year and went on to become an indoor and outdoor NCAA champion in college.

Aged 20 when she arrived at her first Olympics, Saunders used the experience to soak up as much knowledge as possible and learn from her more senior teammates.

She placed fifth in Rio with her final throw of 19.35m. When she returned to the US, she was greeted with a parade in her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, as the city declared that August 17, 2016 would be Raven Saunders Day.

After undergoing hip surgery last year, Saunders set an indoor personal best of 19.57m in February — a timely performance in an Olympic year.

And outside of the throwing circle, she also feels compelled to take on another mission.

“The those that I will help, or folks which are attempting to get higher or who’re searching for assist due to my private story — it actually warms my coronary heart,” says Saunders.

“I all the time felt like in life, attempting to attain folks — to assist folks — is de facto my goal.”

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