The Daily Gamecock

Former Gamecock's mental health foundation garners statewide, nationwide attention

The Hayden Hurst Family Foundation has received national attention in recent months after two NFL players announced plans to work together in suicide prevention. Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst mentioned his foundation to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after the September Falcons-Cowboy game. He also praised Prescott for his willingness to open up about his mental health earlier this year.

Founded in 2018 by former South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst and his mother, Cathy Hurst, the foundation’s mission is "to raise awareness of mental health issues in children and adolescents by funding mental health services," according to its website.

Falcon and Cowboy fans alike had a large reaction, with over 100 emails and donations and fans reaching out for help. Some fans donated in creative ways, such as with numbers that corresponded with the score of the game, the jersey numbers of Prescott and Hurst and Hurst’s 42-yard touchdown catch in the game.

The foundation was proposed when Hayden Hurst decided he wanted to create a mental health and suicide prevention foundation after he was drafted 25th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2018 NFL draft.

This came after Hayden Hurst dealt with mental health issues of his own, including facing the “yips” after being drafted by the MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates and attempting to take his own life while at South Carolina.

“We’ve been thankful that whenever Hayden opens up about his story, we get a lot more people feeling more comfortable even reaching out to us directly, and from there we kind of refer to our resource team, and we’ve been able to get a chunk of people the treatment that they needed,” Jelena McNown, the executive assistant to the president and vice president of the foundation, said. “It's what makes us feel that we’re getting our job done.” 

Since its founding, the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation has worked with many organizations in South Carolina and around the cities of Atlanta and Baltimore. The foundation has also collaborated with other mental health foundations, including Hilinski’s Hope.

Among the organizations, the foundation works with two school districts in South Carolina. It started in Rock Hill and, with help from University of South Carolina's College of Education, it started working with Lexington-Richland School District Five on Nov. 1.

With the school district, the Hurst Foundation will be able to help 60 of the district’s teachers go through InFocus training, "which deals with social and emotional learning," according to Cindy Van Buren, the assistant dean for Professional Partnerships at University of South Carolina.

“So far, that has been our involvement with the Hurst Foundation,” Van Buren said. “Just getting to know Cathy and hearing about what Cathy and Hayden and their family want to accomplish through this foundation and then trying to connect them to the right folks in South Carolina.”

Cathy Hurst, also the vice president of the foundation, said reactions such as these show why it's important for athletes to open up about their mental health.

“How many young people think that these professional athletes are — they're on a pedestal, number one — but that they’re superhuman, and they do no wrong?” Cathy Hurst said. “There’s so many athletes that are now speaking out and letting young people know that, ‘Hey, guess what, I perform well on the football field, but I sometimes have my struggles,' so that these young people realize that it’s OK to not be OK, no one’s perfect and that by them telling and sharing their story, young people can appreciate it and maybe understand it.”