Photos Courtesy of: Victoria Garrick Browne
By: Sarah Moxham
Founded in 2019, The Hidden Opponent is the fullest extension of Victoria Garrick Browne’s work as a mental health advocate.
A former D1 athlete at University of Southern California, TED Talk speaker, podcast host, and the founder of The Hidden Opponent, Garrick’s rap sheet runs the gamut of mental health advocacy. She’s 25.
The path to creating The Hidden Opponent began when Garrick walked on to the USC Women’s Volleyball team in 2015. During her time as a four-year starter on the team, Garrick struggled with performance anxiety, depression, and body image issues.
“Being able to get set up with a sports psychologist at USC was life-changing for me. I was extremely grateful that I was at a university that was able to provide me that support when I needed it,” Garrick shares.
When TED came to USC’s campus in 2017, Garrick tried out, was selected, and was able to share her story.
“After my TED talk, I wasn’t sure what the response would be,” recalls Garrick. “I knew it was a rising issue in sport and I didn’t see many people talking about it at the time. My intention was just to reach other student athletes and let them know they weren’t alone.”
Garrick’s TED Talk was picked up throughout the sports world and she was met with requests to speak on campuses around the country to share her message with their student athletes.
It was through these engagements that The Hidden Opponent was born. Named after her TED Talk, “Athletes and Mental Health: The Hidden Opponent”, raises awareness about student-athlete mental health and works to combat the mental health stigma so common to sports culture.
Now, the Hidden Opponent now boasts over 400 student-athlete ambassadors across 200 campuses nationwide.
“I had no idea what The Hidden Opponent would grow to, but it’s been amazing to see [its] success,” notes Garrick.
Unfortunately, as much as the conversations around mental health continue to change, effective resources are still hard to come by. Student-athletes are disproportionately affected by this — over five NCAA athletes have died by suicide since March. These victims join the nearly 46,000 Americans who died by suicide in 2020 alone.
In light of the striking number of suicide victims across the NCAA, Garrick is more motivated than ever to create change in the collegiate student-athlete community.
“It’s heartbreaking… it feels personal because our goal is to prevent it,” Garrick shares. “But we come back to the athletes we have in our communities that we know we have made an impact on, and that keeps us going.”
While The Hidden Opponent has made great strides in facilitating conversations around mental health among student-athletes, Garrick recognizes that accessibility to mental health resources on college campuses needs to be improved.
“We encourage people to seek help, then there’s no help for them,” says Garrick.
“We’re hoping to grow and have more resources available and reach our full potential in supporting this cause. We’ve done a lot with very little so right now we are seeking out more support from people who believe in our mission.”
So, as conversations around mental health increase, more resources crop up, ready to pull down the veil that so often separates individuals in need from effective care. The Hidden Opponent is one of them.