ALUMNUS Spring 2022 - Mississippi State University

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A University of New Mexico student athlete that Andrea Pierson worked with as an academic adviser. the flashy personas many expect from the world of college sports. “I’ve always been drawn to students who needed someone to believe in them,” Pierson said. “I felt like I was the only one who cared about these students and was seeing what was going on with them. Others noticed but no one talked about it or even addressed it. The students had to go out of their way to ask for resources because it was so taboo to talk about it.” In February 2019, Pierson received news that one of her former football students had taken his own life. “He was like everyone’s big brother and was always willing to show someone around or talk to others about their problems,” she said of the student. Pierson, who had been working with the student during his transition to post-graduation life, said she was shocked and confused, but as she processed the information, she noticed the shift it created among other student-athletes. Several began opening up and speaking out about their own ideations and personal struggles with mental health. Nine months later—in November 2019— another of Pierson’s students died by suicide. She had worked with the student since his freshman year of college, helping him find his place in the world. She said she knew there was always something he seemed to be holding back but never imagined the worst. “I knew that this couldn’t happen again,” Pierson said. “Two students in a year were two

too many. I knew that we needed to be talking about mental health more. I knew that we had to break the athlete mentality and the toughness and the guards they put up. We aren’t talking about this enough, and there are not enough resources for our students.” In the following weeks, Pierson noticed that the conversations that started in the aftermath had become quiet. There was an emphasis on mental health following the tragedies but the discussions eventually stopped. Actions no longer aligned with what people were saying, and Pierson said she began wondering about prevention and advocacy. That’s when Tomorrow Needs You was born. Tomorrow Needs You is an initiative started by Pierson and her friend Latisha Flanders. It focuses on providing support for individuals struggling with mental health. The initiative

“I love working with students and helping them figure out life. We always see people helping student-athletes on their physical well-being, but it’s important for us to also help with their mental well-being . . . Working as an academic adviser allows me to be a person for my students to come to whenever they are off the field or court.” ~ Andrea Pierson also seeks to provide financial support for students who aspire to make a difference in the mental health field. As a result, the Tomorrow Needs You Scholarship was established at the University of New Mexico. In an effort to extend the reach and support of Tomorrow Needs You, Pierson and Flanders recently made a commitment to establish a second scholarship at Mississippi State University. The Tomorrow Needs You Scholarship is awarded to MSU juniors or seniors with a minimum GPA of 2.5. Candidates must also be pursuing a career in the mental health industry or volunteering in the community to promote mental health. “I’d often ask myself, ‘What can I do to make the world a better place?’” Pierson said. “Tomorrow Needs You is a two-way street that people can use to share their stories and remind people that they matter. We need to

Tomorrow Needs You founders Latisha Flanders and Andrea Pierson. Photo by Dalton Padilla support people and be willing to get involved and help others when needed. Talking about mental health is incredibly important because this could happen to anyone. It takes away the stigma and helps others be able to share, heal and know that they are not alone.” Pierson encourages everyone to share their stories with those around them. She and Flanders hope to grow support for the initiative and scholarship program to create similar awards at high schools and colleges across the country. “You don’t have to solve the world’s problems but you do have to respond to them. This is us responding,” Pierson said. “We’re creating resources and helping people be more willing to talk about their own struggles. All the little things create change and all the little pieces add up to a lot.” For more information about annual scholarships and how to support the Tomorrow Needs You Scholarship at MSU, contact Mary Beth Baldwin, associate director of annual giving for the MSU Foundation, at 662.325.6770 or mbaldwin@foundation. msstate.edu. Additional information about Tomorrow Needs You is available online at www.tmrwneedsyou.com. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 or text HOME to 741741 for free crisis counseling from the Crisis Text Line. Additional information and resources can be found at the National Alliance on Mental Illness at nami.org/Home. n ALUMNUS.MSSTATE.EDU

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