For Thomas Oppold, sports have been a lifelong passion.
The senior at Lucy Beckham High School in Mount Pleasant has played many sports growing up — basketball, most notably — and spent many (often early) hours over many years working really hard at his game. He even had dreams of playing professionally.
Until he didn’t.
During his junior year, Oppold lost the passion to chase the dream of going pro, but kept working as hard as ever, not wanting to let his talent go to waste. The relentless pressure he put on himself took him to a really dark place. He slipped into a depression and seriously considered suicide. He also showed no outward signs that anything was wrong.
“For us, the signs were not there,” says Thomas’ mother Kim, who is also a staff member at Lucy Beckham. “Thomas is a quiet kid who was struggling internally. I wish I had checked in with him more and just asked if he was OK. Boys are tricky. With the demands of social media, it’s very important we check in with our kids. Looking back, there are definitely things we as parents could have done better to recognize that he was struggling.”
Thankfully, Thomas summoned to courage to tell his parents what he was going through, and once he did, they were quick to get him help. Thinking that other student athletes at Lucy Beckham might be dealing with similar issues, Thomas met with classmate and lacrosse player, Avery Hull, to create a safe space — named the Lucy Beckham Athlete Mental Awareness Club (AMA) — where other student athletes would be free to talk about their struggles and receive the same support Oppold received.
Thomas calls AMA a “one-of-a-kind community.” Since its launch last year, the club has seen increasingly bigger crowds of students who’ve appreciated the unique opportunity to connect with each other.
“You never know what is going on in someone’s life. AMA creates a safe space for athletes who often try to conquer any struggles they have on their own,” says Avery. “When the club all comes together and is there to support each other through any mental health issues they have been experiencing, that support changes everything and shows them that they are not alone.”
Not only have club members connected with each other, they’ve also connected with the club’s series of inspirational guest speakers, including athletes who’ve had their own mental health struggles during their collegiate and professional careers.
“People like to hear that their struggles are shared. They want to hear how these athletes deal with the same pressures our athletes do,” says Thomas. “This has given them comfort that they aren’t alone. Hearing how they faced problems and how they persevered gives them hope that they can, too.”
While Thomas no longer dreams about being a professional athlete, he has a new goal: Seeing an AMA club in every school across the state, and, one day, in every school across the United States.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can make a difference through this, which is why I am planning on studying psychology to help improve this club even more,” he says. “I want it to be successful everywhere just like it is at Beckham right now. Eventually, this will help destigmatize athletes’ mental health.”
The AMA club might not be in every school across South Carolina, but it has already made a big impact. By having the bravery to share his story, Thomas helped convince another student that suicide was not the answer to his problems.
“A parent told me that this club was what her son needed to feel worthy and validated. It saved his life,” says Kim. “He came to her and told her he needed help. He was brave enough to speak up after a meeting. If your child speaks up, act quickly. It takes a brave soul to say they need help. Do not take it lightly.”
We at SEL4SC applaud Thomas, Avery, Kim, and everyone else who has made the AMA Club at Lucy Beckham High School a safe place for students to discuss the mental health issues affecting them and to get the encouragement and support they need. We, too, are eager to see similar clubs in every school across South Carolina and the nation.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, we urge you to the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.