An athlete who has overcome her share of performance anxiety, sophomore Amanda Gomez started an organization at The Catholic University of America focused on destigmatizing student athlete mental health struggles.
In recognition of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, Gomez shared how The Hidden Opponent, a nonprofit organization that advocates globally for student athlete mental health, has benefited the University since Spring 2022.
Part of a national movement, the month seeks to support mental health, fight the stigma around the topic, and raise awareness about the effects of mental health struggles.
Gomez, who is on the University softball team, said when playing a sport, every athlete has a visible opponent to compete against. But many people are unaware of the “hidden opponent” — mental health struggles — that athletes are also up against.
“It’s that little additional thing that you have to overcome to be successful, especially in college athletics where pressure and competition are really high,” said Gomez. “It’s a common thing in athletics to roll over mental health and just say ‘tough it out.’ And so that's what we're trying to stop; it's OK to talk about it when you're suffering.”
A business and digital art double major from West Chester, Pennsylvania, Gomez applied to be the University student ambassador of the organization and initiated the club when she was only a first-year student. Hidden Opponent ambassadors, or “campus captains,” help improve campus culture and promote conversations on campuses across the world.
Catholic University’s group has hosted a variety of activities, such as mental health awareness games where encouraging speeches are made to Cardinal athletes before they compete.
During Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which is Feb. 27-March 5, the group encouraged students to write positive notes about themselves to place on a mirror in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. Other events include occasional spike ball events for people to intermingle and destress, and the club holds monthly gatherings in the Raymond A. DuFour Athletic Center where there are interactive activities and presentations on topics related to mental health.
“What I noticed most about students here is that they really want to make change,” said Gomez. “When given the opportunity, I found that a lot of people want to be involved and are looking to help out, either in the biggest or smallest ways.”
Gomez, who has played softball since she was at least 6 years old, initially came to Catholic University as a softball recruit. But she quickly discovered the school was a treasure trove of opportunities, both in the surrounding Washington, D.C. area, and on campus.
“Not every school makes it so easy to found a club,” said Gomez. “I've felt so encouraged in everything I've been involved in. It’s a place of really good opportunities, from athletics to academics to extracurriculars.”
Catholic University’s softball team is a driven group of girls who care passionately about their performance, Gomez said, adding that she has always enjoyed the reliance between teammates in the sport.
Gomez is grateful she found the University because it is a place “that made it so easy for me to make an impact and to try and make things better beyond just our campus. … No matter how young you are, you can be a leader and people will follow you.”