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Death of PGA Tour player lifts up need for mental health support for athletes

St. Joseph News-Press - 5/29/2024

May 28—After it was announced that a PGA Tour player died by suicide over the weekend, community members are discussing the importance of athlete mental health.

It was announced that Grayson Murray, a PGA Tour player, died Saturday at the age of 30. He most recently won the Sony Open in January.

Jeffrey Johnston, an upcoming senior and golfer at Missouri Western State University, said the news of Murray's death was unexpected.

"I was very shocked because it kind of just came out of nowhere, especially, with him winning earlier this year and just having a great season ... just kind of shocked everyone really," Johnston said.

Murray withdrew from the Charles Schwab Challenge citing an illness before the completion of his second round of play on Friday. His family announced his death on Saturday.

Murray was on record about his struggles with depression.

"Everyone has their battles," Murray said a year ago. "Sometimes people are able to hide them and function, and sometimes you're not. I think our society now is getting better about accepting that it's OK to not be OK. I've embraced that mentality. I'm not ashamed that I go through depression and anxiety."

The "it's ok not to be ok" mentality sticks with Kristina Hannon, co-CEO of the Family Guidance Center in St. Joseph. It's a perspective that encourages others to be active listeners when those around them are struggling. It also encourages people to take part in others receiving help and counseling.

"I think more people need to embrace that approach and to say, 'it's okay if you're not okay ... I'm here for you. I'm not going to laugh at you. I'm not going to dismiss what you have to say to me. I will be the person who will listen,'" Hannon said. "(It) doesn't mean you're a quitter, it doesn't mean you're weak, it means you're taking care of yourself."

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, more than 48,000 people died by suicide in 2021 in the United States, and around 1.7 million adults that attempted suicide in 2021.

In the sports world, mental health is something that Johnston has to keep in mind as an athlete. He spoke on struggles he has had mentally while playing golf.

"I've definitely struggled early, especially in high school, having just high expectations on myself, which is the biggest thing because I mean, you're your own biggest critic," Johnston said. "Having that high expectation on yourself and not achieving those right away is really hard on yourself."

He said the same could be said for the first two years of his college career. However, this past year, he went through a mindset change that improved his headspace.

"It's easy to say, but thinking positive just the whole time, I mean, a lot of, especially with golf, there's a lot of negatives because we're always saying, 'Oh, we could have done this better, we could've done that better,' every round, no matter how good or bad it was," Johnston said. "Taking those positives and just kind of running with it has helped me a lot. It's kind of led to the consistency that I've shown throughout the last year."

As an athlete, Johnston said having a great support system of family and friends is a great start, but his faith keeps him strong when times are tough.

"It's important then just have faith in God and your family, your friends, that they'll be there by your side to help you through it no matter what. Just believe that, no matter what struggle," Johnston said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 988 for resources.

Riley Funk can be reached at riley.funk@newspressnow.com.

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