To Ryan Day, mental illness is personal.
When he was 9, his father died by suicide. With two younger brothers, Day became the man of the house. He grew up quickly. He had no choice.
But not until adulthood did the Ohio State football coach begin to understand the role mental illness played in his father’s suicide. Now he and his wife, Nina, want to spread awareness of that issue and help kids who are dealing with it.
On Wednesday, the Days announced they have established the Ryan and Christina Day Fund for Pediatric and Adolescent Wellness at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as part of the “On Our Sleeves” initiative.
The Days have pledged $100,000 to the fund. Nina Day — her formal name is Christina — said that a 48-bed unit in a new building is scheduled to open in March.
“We decided to team up with (Nationwide Children’s) because what they’re doing is something that really hits home with me, hits home with Nina and is something we want to be a part of,” Day said at the start of a news conference Wednesday. “It’s kind of on the cutting edge of what they want to do in building a hospital next spring for teenagers and adolescents in crisis.”
Day had not talked publicly about his father’s suicide until Wednesday.
“Without getting into too many details, when you grow up and you’re young, you go through a range of emotions from angry to sad to resentment,” he said. “Then as you get older, when you reach your 20s and your 30s, it kind of makes more sense what happened. You have a better perspective of what it is. As I got older, I started to realize it was a sickness.”
Day said he wants to help remove the stigma attached to mental illness.
“It’s a stigma that maybe even I as a young person bought into,” Day said. “As I get older, I don’t buy that anymore. It’s like any other sickness. If somebody gets cancer or somebody gets ill, they need treatment.
“It’s the same thing with mental health. I think that’s the biggest thing — breaking these stigmas, especially (for) men not having those conversations. They need help.”
Day said that the football program is taking the issue seriously. He said the team will have two sports psychologists and two counselors available to players.
“They’re in a high-profile position, so there’s anxiety, there’s depression,” Day said. “There are things that go on even with our players. I want those guys to feel like they can have those conversations.
“Especially being a football coach in kind of a ‘manly’ sport, it’s good for people to hear that our guys are vulnerable — we’re all vulnerable — and that it’s real. If people need help, they shouldn’t be ashamed of that.”
The Days have three young children, and Nina said she sees the stress that kids today endure.
“More and more we’re seeing kids with anxiety and depression,” she said. “More and more, we’re seeing violence in our society — school shootings on almost a weekly basis. Talking to a lot of people, they’re afraid to say that their child is depressed or has anxiety or has had suicidal thoughts. We just felt the importance of starting to talk about it.”
To learn more about the Days’ fund or donate, go to onoursleeves.org/dayfamilyfund.