An ASU track athlete’s journey to mental health advocacy

April 10, 2020

Mason Ford was intimidated when he was met with hundreds of faces after walking into his first lecture at Arizona State University. However, Ford, a sophomore transfer student from Augustana University in South Dakota, learned quickly that people were willing to help as long as he made an effort to reach out. 

“I was never afraid to ask the person next to me,” Ford said.

Ford found his purpose on campus, walking on to ASU’s track and field team and graduating with a degree in business, sports and media studies. 

Now, as a second-year master’s student studying sports law and business, Ford is working with Devils 4 Devils as an outreach and education coordinator to provide the same resources that helped him thrive as a student athlete.

Devils 4 Devils is a peer-to-peer program that provides training for students, faculty and community members and aims to help participants improve their emotional-support skills — like engaging with empathy, recognizing signs of distress and fostering a healthy community through empathetic connection and mental health awareness. They’re offering virtual meetups and resources while students are social distancing in spring 2020.  

Ford emphasized the importance of the student-oriented nature of the program. 

“It’s really important that Devils 4 Devils is a peer-to-peer program rather than mentor-to-student because those are people you see every day and are in your community … going through things during the college experience. We want to be able to teach people how to react and be empathetic in those times,” Ford said. 

Ford said that actively listening and asking questions is essential in learning how to be supportive of someone who is sharing a personal experience or feeling.

“One of the things we teach in the Devils 4 Devils training that often goes unnoticed is taking the time to ask. Sometimes listening is better than giving advice,” Ford said.

Ford said the initiative also focuses on collaborating with student organizations on campus, particularly mental health groups. However, the university-wide program is open to anyone, even high school students. 

It’s especially important, according to Ford, that college-age students develop the skills that address their mental health because they are often dealing with problems that arise from being on their own for the first time.

Ford began working with Devils 4 Devils after utilizing counseling and mental health services during his senior year at ASU. 

Entering his last season as a high jumper on the track and field team, Ford said he was not performing as he knew he could. One of his teammates told him that a sports psychologist helped him take major steps to improve during his season; they didn’t talk about track, just about what was going on personally. His story inspired Ford to seek help, and he started by going to ASU Counseling Services

“It changed my whole season around,” Ford said. “I ended up accomplishing almost all of my goals. I went to the NCAA [Men’s Track and Field] preliminary round and earned a scholarship my senior year. I credit that to stepping into Counseling Services, getting uncomfortable and having them help. 

While Ford has spent plenty of time advocating for mental health within the world of sports —  he was co-president of the student-athlete advisory committee at ASU — he is ready to share the tools and insights he’s gained with as many people as possible.

“That’s the ultimate goal —  for us to teach and that to be passed on to people in the community,” Ford said.