Student-run group seeks to promote mental health among athletes

By: Jake DiPaola

Elm Staff Writer

Last February, sophomore Ben Ruvo undertook the task of starting his own organization, OpenMindGymm, to support student athletes’ mental health.

Ruvo said he began working on the group when he decided he “wanted to make a difference.”

As someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Ruvo attended therapy and got the treatment he needed. But he also wanted others to receive that same help. 

Ruvo hopes to empower students to speak up about mental health by spreading mental health awareness through OpenMindGymm. The double “m” in the name stands for mind over matter.

While OpenMindGymm is centered on student athletes — hence the “Gymm” — he wants to “open minds about [both] athlete health and mental health in general.”

Mental health awareness is the center of OpenMindGymm’s mission, seeking to give students a voice with which to speak up and ask for help.

Ruvo may be the founder, but he does not operate alone.

Sophomore Iz Conover works on product design, where she utilizes her artistic knowledge to create merchandise that appeals to multiple groups. 

“These designs are those that will be placed on the merchandise and sold to our following. I also take into consideration who is in our following when making these designs. For example, we are going to make more products that target certain sports groups and some products that can be worn by anyone wanting to support our cause, athlete or not,” Conover said.

Ruvo also collaborates with his sister Holly, who moderates their social media, as well as his hometown friends Jake Brodsky and Ben Chelnitsky who help drive the initiative forward and handles accounting and finances respectively. 

The group raises funds by selling apparel designed by Conover, such as t-shirts and wristbands, over social media and during events.

OpenMindGymm hosted panels, fundraisers, guest speakers who shared their OCD stories, and Celebrity Alliance which brought Julie Donaldson, the NBCS Sports anchor for Washington D.C. 

One event on campus was a panel with the mental health awareness organization “We’re All a Little ‘Crazy,’” who discussed mental health and providing support.

The OpenMindGymm team partnered with other organizations like Made of Millions, which produces OCD awareness podcasts, Same Here, a mental health support movement, and OCD Gamechangers, an international nonprofit which seeks to form a community between people who are affected by or study OCD.

In addition to hosting programs on campus, the group conducts its outreach online.

On their website, there are question and answer forums where athletes can share their stories and discuss the problems they face. 

Ruvo also spoke about an app which helps with OCD treatment and is available in the Apple App Store, “NOCD: Effective care for OCD.” The app gives patients the opportunity to connect with therapists who specialize in OCD.

“5.2% of athletes have OCD and are ten-times more likely on the path of suicide,” said Ruvo. “We have great therapists here… but there are also some disorders where there is specific therapy.” 

Both Ruvo and Conover struggle with mental illness and want to provide resources for others.

“I struggled with some hardcore anxiety during my senior year of high school,” Conover said. “I am super passionate about spreading empathy and showing understanding to those going through such a hard and unwanted hardship like mental illnesses.”

Ruvo shared her sentiments, and said he hopes to make a difference in the community. But these ideas are not limited to members of OpenMindGymm.

Charlie Snyder, a junior and member of the rowing team, said that he feels “that as a member of a team, it is important for me to be there as a support for my other teammates. So, any program that can either support them directly or help me be a better help to them is one I will support.”

While there are challenges to mental health awareness and treatment, Ruvo and OpenMindGymm aim to continue to work with students to gain access to resources and overcome logistical and social barriers.

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