The NFL partnered with Cigna to host the Youth Mental Health Forum at Florida International University on Sept. 18 in Miami, Florida. More than 200 student-athletes, parents and coaches from Miami Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) attended the event.

In recognition of Suicide Prevention Month, the event used sports to spark a conversation around mental health awareness, education and stigma reduction.

Throughout the program, student-athletes learned about ways to bolster their own mental health and how to offer support to teammates and peers. Parents and coaches, in turn, were given guidance on how they can better support their student-athletes and ensure that sports are contributing to positive mental health.

"We have become increasingly willing to recognize that mental health is as important as physical health at all levels, including in the world of professional sports,” said Nyaka NiiLampti, Ph.D., NFL Vice President of Wellness and Clinical Services. "We realize that if we truly want to make a shift from a crisis management approach to one that is more prevention and early intervention based, we need to begin these discussions as early as possible.”

“Statistics tell us that more than half of all mental health concerns begin by age 14 and almost 75% before age 24,” continued NiiLampti. “This was an incredible opportunity to work with tremendous partners in both Cigna and M-DCPS and begin these conversations." 

Panelists and guest speakers included prominent league, team and community representatives, as well as representatives from Mental Health America of Southeast Florida, Florida International University and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

  • Julius Thomas – NFL Legend and current psychology graduate student
  • Twan Russell – Miami Dolphins Youth Programs Ambassador
  • Dr. Robert Hamilton – Cigna Market Executive
  • Dr. Rob Seifer – Miami Dolphins Team Clinician
  • Kaleb Thornhill – Miami Dolphins Director of Player Engagement
  • Dr. Kensa Gunter – Atlanta Falcons Team Clinician
  • Dwight Hollier – NFL Legend and University of North Carolina Senior Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Health, Well-Being & Program Outreach

"For too many young people on and off the field, mental health issues are a taboo subject they're ashamed to discuss with their doctors and families," said Dr. Robert Hamilton, Cigna Senior Medical Director. "At Cigna, we aim to change that and help erase the stigma surrounding mental well-being. We're proud to partner with the NFL and Miami-Dade Public Schools to help educate student-athletes and their families about mental health and offer solutions for getting the help they need."

"We must continue to reinforce to students the importance of opening up and discussing mental wellness in individual and group settings like today's forum," said M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho. "As young athletes, it is critical that they understand the connection between performance and emotional well-being, and that they are fully aware of all resources available to seek support, if needed."