Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Lacrosse: ‘You’re more than just an athlete’: Argentieri, Johnson promote mental health awareness for student-athletes

Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics
Senior midfielder Hannah Johnson hugs sophomore goaltender Fran Argentieri during Johnson’s Senior Night.

In June 2023, Hannah Johnson logged into Instagram and created a new account.

The username: @live_yourtruth23, aptly named for the mantra Johnson used to get herself back into playing form. The content: educational and inspirational mental health posts to encourage others. 

“Living your truth is just being authentically you and showing up every day as who you are,” Johnson said. 

The senior midfielder, who has played in 11 games this season, is looking to help the Wildcats capture a national title for the second consecutive season. 

But Johnson, who created her Instagram account a month after NU won its first national title since 2012, stood on the sidelines last year in Cary, North Carolina as the ’Cats handily defeated Boston College.

She was on medical leave, stepping away from the program to better her mental health.

“For a long time, I was hesitant and neglecting help that I needed to get because I just wanted to keep going,” Johnson said. “I wanted to graduate, I wanted to keep playing lacrosse, but at the end of the day, that wasn’t working, and my mental health was suffering because of it.”

Johnson spent time during the fall of 2022 in intensive mental health treatment and had planned for a January 2023 comeback as NU started its 2023 season. 

But that comeback attempt fell short and, at the advice of coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, Johnson spent additional time in the hospital. She said Amonte Hiller reassured her, no matter what, she would still have a place with the Lake Show.

“It was just amazing that she never gave up on me,” Johnson said. “She never was like, ‘Now you can’t be on the team because you are not in a good place mentally.’ It was like, ‘You’re gonna go get help, and you’re gonna come back better for this team. And be a big part of this team.’”

Hannah Johnson cradles the ball during Northwestern’s NCAA quarterfinal tilt against Penn on May 16.

A December 2023 study of more than 23,000 student-athletes found that 44% of NCAA women’s athletes reported feeling overwhelmed and 35% reported feeling mentally exhausted. However, only 40% of female athletes said they would feel comfortable talking to their coaches about mental health issues. 

The University offers services for athletes such as sports psychologists from Counseling and Psychological Services, which Johnson said she has utilized. She said her teammates also supported her through her journey.

“(Mental health is) talked about a lot more than it used to be,” Johnson said. “A lot of people are very open about their experiences with mental health … I think we’ve just created a culture where we can share personal and vulnerable things with each other.”

In 2024 –– back with NU and living her truth –– Johnson has logged key NCAA tournament minutes for the ’Cats. Teammates cheered as she posed with Amonte Hiller and Athletic Director Derrick Gragg at her Senior Night. 

Her contributions to the team yielded her the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, which honors athletes for their off-field behavior.

“I’ve just been soaking up every moment of it,” Johnson said of her senior campaign. “It’s been amazing being with my teammates every day, and I’m just cherishing every moment.”

At Johnson’s Senior Night on March 30, the teammate to present her commemorative plaque was sophomore goalkeeper Fran Argentieri.

Every time NU scores, without fail, Argentieri jogs down the sideline, high-fiving all of her teammates –– including the support staff and athletic trainers.

The sophomore, waiting in the wings behind star graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty, can almost always be seen on the bench dancing or celebrating when the ’Cats are in front. 

And there’s always a smile on her face.

Fran Argentieri high-fives a member of Northwestern’s coaching staff following a goal earlier this season.

“It’s getting the bench hype and getting everyone excited,” Argentieri said. “Being able to celebrate everything on the sidelines, whether it’s a goal or turnover … to put my all into that is something I take a lot of pride in.”

Argentieri said she puts plenty of emphasis on staying positive on and off the field, something she’s carried into her work with the mental health nonprofit The Hidden Opponent, where she serves as a campus captain. 

“Making people feel like they’re heard and feel like they’re connected is a big goal of mine,” Argentieri said.

As a campus captain this year, Argentieri has completed monthly training for learning and reflection. She said she plans to utilize her learning next year to spread mental health awareness across more NU Athletics programs, not just lacrosse. 

“As athletes, we have a hard schedule,” Argentieri said. “We go to classes, we go to practice, we go to lift, we do homework, there’s a lot to it. And I think when you’re mentally not there, it’s really hard to be physically there.”

The Hidden Opponent, founded by former NCAA Division I volleyball player Victoria Browne, provides resources for student-athlete mental health. 

The Campus Captain system, which began in 2020, currently enlists over 500 student-athlete ambassadors in all 50 states, said Program Administrator Kelsey Isman. Campus captains serve as extensions of The Hidden Opponent’s advocacy work, fostering a culture of mental health openness across their respective college campuses. 

Argentieri says her team has been receptive to creating this culture.

“Our team especially is really awesome with being open and vulnerable about mental health and making people you know feel like they can talk about it if they need to,” she said.

Johnson and Argentieri will take the field together for the final time Sunday, united both as teammates and as mental health advocates. Whether or not they secure a victory is beyond the point –– Johnson says her biggest lesson is to value the connections she’s made as a ’Cat.

“A lot of athletes’ mental health stems from tying their worth to their sport,” Johnson said. “But you’re more than just your sport. You’re more than just an athlete. That’s been a journey for me as well.”

Email: [email protected]

X: @HenryFrieman


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