LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech University (TTU) is participating in College Football Mental Health Week along with 122 other schools across the country from Oct. 1-8. 

The week was started by Hilinski’s Hope, a nonprofit created by Kym and Mark Hilinski in honor of their son Tyler, a former Washington State University quarterback, who died by suicide. The nonprofit spreads mental health awareness, education and resources for student-athletes.

Hilinski’s parents said many described Tyler as the happiest person in any room and on any field. But when it came to their son, they now know how hard it can be to notice signs of those struggling with mental health.

“We missed this, everybody missed this,” Mark Hilinski said. “Tyler was unable to share it with anybody, and now he’s gone at 21.”

On the morning of Jan. 16, 2018, Tyler showed up for practice, but when the Cougars’ afternoon weightlifting session began, he wasn’t there. He’d made the decision to take his own life.

Hurt and confused, Tyler’s parents said their son showed no signs of depression. 

“Tyler was this loved person by his teammates, his coaches, his family and friends,” Kym Hilinski said. “If he was struggling, how many other student-athletes out there are struggling?” 

Hilinski’s Hope has since created College Football Mental Health Week, a time when schools nationwide team up with the nonprofit to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“We didn’t want another student-athlete to go through what Tyler may have gone through,” Kym Hilinski said. “We certainly didn’t want another family to lose a child.”

TTU’s Dr. Angela Lumpkin is a kinesiology and sport management professor who has studied intercollegiate athletics for over 40 years. She said unfortunately, fans can sometimes get too invested.

“When the outcome of the game is a missed field goal, a missed tackle, an incorrectly thrown pass or not caught pass that may have an impact on the final score of the game leads people to place blame,” Lumpkin said. “It’s a team sport, and they forget that. Lots of things happen in a game that it’s not ever one person or one situation.”

As the year 2022 has shown, it’s difficult for athletes to avoid seeing those hurtful messages. 

“The body and the mind can only hold so many things inside,” Lumpkin said. “Then they may have thoughts that the best way to deal with his pressure is to end it all, to walk away from the sport, take their life.”

Dr. Jimmy Sanderson is an associate professor of kinesiology and sport management at TTU who researches the impact of social media on sport and health issues. He said noteworthy professional athletes have opened up about mental health issues which in turn helps collegiate athletes feel more comfortable voicing their struggles.

“It’s a very hidden issue for many people,” Sanderson said. “It’s been good to see some more acceptance. Some of our data indicates that student-athletes and other athletes are more willing to talk about mental health to open up about mental health. Interestingly enough, social media has been an avenue for them to do that.”

This is the third annual college football mental health week. During the first year, there were 16 schools, last year 58 schools took part, and this year, a record 123 schools nationwide are participating. 

“We have some of the biggest schools, football schools you can count, Texas Tech being one of them,” Mark Hilinski said. “They have created neat opportunities on campus, for the student-athletes to share their stories and normalize this conversation, not making them be heroes to ask for help.”

This Saturday, TTU will be playing Oklahoma State University at Boone Pickens Stadium. Both the Red Raiders and the Cowboys are participating in the awareness week. The Hilinski’s goal is to expose students to mental health resources and destigmatize mental illness activities in honor of Tyler, and others lost or suffering from mental health problems.

Participating schools are doing at least one of the following this week: 

  • Showcase a lime green ribbon on all player’s helmets with a “3” in the middle to honor Tyler Hilinski and remember those lost and those suffering in silence
  • Encourage students, parents, alumni, and fans to participate in showing solidarity, and eliminating the stigma around mental health by holding three fingers in the sky during the first play of the third quarter
  • Play a Hilinski’s Hope public service announcement at games during the awareness week
  • Take Hilinski’s Hope’s “Online Mental Health Course” to help reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health concerns, and provides a new way of thinking about mental health
  • Create a social media campaign
  • Participate in an internal assessment to evaluate how universities are following best practices in terms of mental health programs and include talks and training on campus for players, coaches and staff

The 123 schools teaming up with Hilinski’s Hope for the 2022 College Football Mental Health Week are:

  • Arizona State University
  • Auburn University
  • Baylor University
  • Bemidji State University
  • Benedict College
  • Berry College
  • Boise State University
  • Boston University
  • Bowling Green State University
  • Brigham Young University
  • Brookdale Community College
  • California Baptist University
  • California State University, Bakersfield
  • Carroll College
  • Central College
  • Chicago State University
  • Claremont Mudd Scripps Colleges
  • Clemson University
  • Concordia University, Chicago
  • Cornell University
  • Davidson College
  • Drake University
  • Duquesne University
  • East Mississippi Community College
  • Eastern Washington University
  • Florida Atlantic University
  • Florida State University
  • Gardner-Webb University
  • George Fox University
  • George Mason University
  • Georgetown University
  • Georgia Southern University
  • Grand Canyon University
  • Henderson State University
  • Idaho State University
  • Illinois State University
  • Indiana University
  • James Madison University
  • Kansas State University
  • Lamar University
  • Lehigh University
  • Liberty University
  • Louisiana State University
  • Louisiana Tech University
  • Marist College
  • Mercyhurst University
  • Middlebury College
  • Mississippi College
  • Mississippi State University
  • Missouri State University
  • Mount San Antonio College
  • New Mexico State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • North Dakota State University
  • North Greenville University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Northwestern University
  • Northwood University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • Oregon State University
  • Pacific Lutheran University
  • Pomona-Pitzer Colleges
  • Sacramento State University
  • Saint Vincent College
  • Saint Xavier University
  • Seattle University
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Southern University and A&M College
  • Stanford University
  • Stetson University
  • Stevenson University
  • Stony Brook University
  • Tarleton State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas Tech University
  • Thiel College
  • Tufts University Football
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • University at Buffalo
  • University of Akron
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Arkansas
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
  • University of Dayton
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Detroit, Mercy
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Hawaii
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Miami
  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Missouri-Kansas City
  • University of Montana Western
  • University of Nevada, Reno
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • University of North Carolina, Greensboro
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Redlands
  • University of Richmond
  • University of San Diego
  • University of South Carolina
  • University of South Carolina, Beaufort
  • University of South Dakota
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • University of Tulsa
  • University of Utah
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wyoming
  • Utah State University
  • Utah Valley University
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Washington State University
  • West Virginia University
  • Western Carolina University
  • Whitworth University
  • William Penn University

To learn more, visit the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation’s website.