Ohio State football coach Ryan Day makes $1 million gift to fund mental health research at OSU

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch
Aug 3, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA;  The Ohio State University head football coach Ryan Day and his wife, Nina, announce a $1 million donation to fund research and services that promote mental health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine. The Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund will be housed in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.

To Ryan and Nina Day, mental health is personal.

Three years ago, the Ohio State football coach and his wife established The Christina and Ryan Day Fund for Pediatric and Adolescent Mental Wellness through Nationwide Children's Hospital. That includes the "On Our Sleeves" initiative to fight the stigma about discussing mental health.

On Wednesday, Ohio State president Kristina Johnson announced that the Days had created the Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund with a donation of $1 million for research and treatment at the OSU Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine.

"The biggest differentiator is that (On Our Sleeves) is really for the children, and this is more for our students — Buckeye Nation — and for adults," Ryan Day said at a press conference at the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital.

"Supporting mental health services and ending the stigma around mental illness are causes that are very dear to our heart. Ohio State has been very, very good to our family, and we feel that investing in the mental wellness of Buckeye Nation is a tremendous privilege and the right thing to do. Nina and I know from our own experiences what a great difference mental health care can make in the life of someone who is hurting.”

Aug 3, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA;  The Ohio State University head football coach Ryan Day and his wife, Nina, announce a $1 million donation to fund research and services that promote mental health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine. The Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund will be housed in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.

Day’s father died by suicide when Ryan was 8. He has said it took him a long time to come to terms with that and understand that mental illness caused his father to end his life. Nina Day said she has struggled with anxiety most of her life and that her college years were particularly difficult.

“Like all families, we have shared great moments and successes while also experiencing heartache and struggle,” Nina Day said. “We want our kids to understand that life is about enjoying the highs and managing the lows. We want our children to have the resilience to thrive in the face of adversity. And if they ever face a challenge that feels too big to handle, we want them to be empowered to ask for help. That's what we feel every parent wants for every child.”

Aug 3, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA;  Nina Day talks about her experience with anxiety during a press conference, where she and her husband, head football coach Ryan Day, announce a $1 million donation to fund research and services that promote mental health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine. The Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund will be housed in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.

Since Day became head coach in 2019, Ohio State’s football program has expanded its mental health services. 

Former offensive lineman Harry Miller credited Day and the mental-health staff with saving him last year after he contemplated suicide. Miller medically retired from football and has become an advocate for mental health care.

Ohio State football:Former OSU lineman Harry Miller continues work after medical retirement

Day said a couple of other players whose stories have not been made public also needed similar treatment.

“That college age, that’s a tough stretch for a lot of people,” Day said. "They need the resources. They need the help.”

The Days’ donation will help provide that. But the money will also go toward research, identifying risk factors and studying why many at-risk people avoid having debilitating mental health issues and the lessons that can provide.

“The bad news is that 10- 20% of people after a trauma or after stress fall to an illness,” said Dr. K. Luan Phan, chair of the OSU Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health. “But 70-80% actually do pretty well. What we need to figure out is what are those people who were in the 80% doing that can help the 10-20% who are falling ill.

“We need to shift this idea of focusing not on why people get sick, but more on why people stay well. That's a major shift in our field because our field has always been about illness and negativity. We don't focus on the positive elements that we need to cultivate.”

Phan said the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the mental-health challenges that college students and adults have faced.

“It’s lasted, unfortunately, a lot longer than we had hoped,” he said. “What we want to think about going forward is how to spin the paradigm from taking care of illness toward prevention and toward building and cultivating resilience.”

Phan cited a quote by Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu.

“It's a mantra I really hold dear to my heart,” he said, “which is, ‘There comes a point where you need to stop pulling people out of the river. You’ve got to go upstream and figure out why they're falling in in the first place.’ ”

Phan said that will be the focus of the research funded by the Days’ donation.

“We can’t play defense all the time,” he said. “We have to (play) offense. The resilience game is really an offensive game.”

Aug 3, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA;  Coach Ryan Day fist bumps, Dr. Andrew Thomas, during a press conference where coach Ryan Day and his wife, Nina, announce a $1 million donation to fund research and services that promote mental health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine. The Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund will be housed in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.

How to seek help       

If you or someone you know is experiencing a behavioral health crisis or suicidal thoughts, you can reach Ohio's 24/7 Crisis Text Line by texting 4HOPE to 741741, or call the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-221-5445; the Teen Suicide Prevention Hotline at 614-294-3300; or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255/TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers).

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at brabinowitz@dispatch.com or on Twitter @brdispatch.

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