KSU athlete battles mental health stigma, aims to advocate for children

Jermaine Jackson

Listen to “Monique Smith: Kent State athlete and advocate” on Spreaker.

Being able to play basketball at the collegiate level is a dream for some. The journey and dedication it takes to be able to play at that level comes with many sacrifices. What’s often forgotten is that athletes struggle with the same personal problems as the rest of us. Kent State women’s basketball player Monique Smith is one of them.

Smith is a sophomore from San Diego, California, who plays forward for the team. She majors in business management but what she minors in is what’s important, even more important than basketball — psychology.

Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of happiness. Just trying to find out for myself as a big motivator,” Smith said. “Going to college, I knew it was going to make me happy so basketball was my way there. Getting in college and realizing basketball doesn’t make me that happy anymore. I have to stick it out for the next two years to do what is going to make me happy.”

What makes Smith happy you ask? Being able to support children and give the help that she wasn’t able to receive when she was younger. There is a saying that goes, “Be the person you need it when you were younger”

“My greatest accomplishment is making it to college,” Smith said. “I am not the biggest in my position I’m not the tallest but I’m just trying to make it out of college so I can become a clinical psychologist for children. I feel nowadays people just want to medicate things and kids don’t (always need) medication. They need someone to help them work through their issues. I want to be there and be that person for them because I didn’t have that person for me.”

Like many other women in this country, Smith is one of many victims of sexual abuse at an early age. The abuse occurred while she was participating in the very sport that took her to college.

One of my biggest obstacles was overcoming being molested and trying to find myself after that,” Smith said. “It went on all of elementary school. I’m very positive this is where the depression started. Didn’t have a word for it back then; your girl was just sad.”

Many victims of sexual assault often feel it was their fault. They feel they have nowhere to go or have anyone to talk to. Many remain silent because people usually place the blame on the victim and not the abuser. Studies show there is are correlations between being sexually assaulted and having mental health issues. According to Mental Health America, victims of sexual assault are at an increased risk for developing depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or fall victim to substance abuse.  

“I didn’t tell anyone because most of the time the victim thinks it’s their fault anyway. I thought I was going to get in trouble so I thought let me keep it to myself,” Smith said. “I started hooping in like 8th grade. We had this tournament and the dude that molested me was there. So I was like I’m (going to) go home and end it all.”

Alone, without anyone to talk to or comfort her, Smith began to contemplate her relationship with God. This a common conflict that usually occurs after one goes a traumatic experience.

“At this time, I ain’t have much of a relationship with God; I knew he existed,” Smith said. “I thought he abandoned me. At that moment, I was like ‘Damn, he had been here the whole time.’ I was still angry at him for letting that happen to me. I was told he’s there to protect you and everything. I just feel like he wasn’t there for me when that happened.I kinda faked the funk, faked being a Christian until I got to kent. I just wilded out my freshmen year; I was still dealing with my whole depression and not knowing how to cope with what happened. Winter break hit, I was like ‘What I am doing? I’m not happy.’ When I look in the mirror, I don’t like the person I’m seeing.”

Things changed once one of Smith’s teammates took her to the Fellowship for Christian Athletes campus ministry (FCA). She met one of the ministers, who took her under their wing.

Through that fellowship, others around Smith began to notice changes. Alexa Golden, a senior teammate, has been there since day one.

“When She Came Here to Kent, she was a little immature,” Golden said. “I feel like she was los, she still has room to grow, but I feel like she’s grown a lot as a person over the last two years. We both had ‘come to Jesus’ moments. We both realized having Jesus in our lives is a huge part of who we want to be and we just wanted to grow in our faith.”

The two still acknowledge the fact that there is always room for improvement. With each trip, they realize becoming a better person takes time.

“We’ve gone to FCA and church together I think it’s through there that (Smith) has grown the most,” Golden said. “She’s learned that you can be loved, and she doesn’t need other people to prove that. I still think one of the biggest thing with (Smith) is she needs to learn she can’t love other people and just because they don’t love her, doesn’t mean she isn’t love by other people.”

I think surrounding myself around withcertain people at kent and interjecting myself in certain situations has helped a lot for me to grown as a person and woman,” Smith said. “I just feel like I’ve become a better version of myself, and I think without that little awakening, it wouldn’t of been possible.”

Each one of us all have a conflict that we are constantly fighting, whether it’s with someone else or whether it’s an internal one, like a battle with mental health. It’s OK to let your guard down and ask for help. Don’t be afraid to let others know that you are hurting. Try to reach out, try to seek help. Having someone in your corner can go a long way.

Jermaine Jackson is a Kent State journalism student. Contact him at [email protected].