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Kean Mental Health Summit Works to Make Connections

 Chamique Holdsclaw, a Black female with long, black dreads standing behind a black podium that says Kean University on it in white. There is a black microphone in front of her as well. Chamique is wearing a cream-colored buttoned-up shirt, and is looking into the crowd.

WNBA All Star Chamique Holdsclaw spoke at a Mental Health Summit at Kean University recently, telling community leaders, care providers and Kean students,“we’re here to normalize the conversation about mental health.”

A retired professional basketball player whose career accomplishments also include three NCAA national college championships, an Olympic gold medal and induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Holdsclaw is now a mental health advocate and national speaker who works especially with youth.

Holdsclaw said she is “still in recovery” for bipolar disorder and now values the chance to help others. 

“Basketball was this tool to get me the platform to encourage youth,” she said. “I am coaching. I’m coaching in a different way.”

The event, organized by the Kean University Office of Government Affairs, the Human Rights Institute and the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership, was held Friday, November 4 on Kean’s Union campus as part of the University’s ongoing wellness strategy. 

Launched by Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., Kean’s wellness initiative works to support and increase physical, mental, financial and environmental wellness in the University community.

“Mental health is a crucial issue in higher education, especially as we all collectively move forward after the pandemic,” Repollet said. “As part of Kean’s commitment to overall wellness, we are proud to build connections and open conversations about mental health through events such as the Mental Health Summit. A caring Cougar Nation is our best asset.”

In her address, Holdsclaw shared stories from her stellar athletic career. She began playing basketball as a coping mechanism during a troubled childhood in Queens, N.Y., became a national college star with the University of Tennessee Lady Vols and, in 1999, was the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick, chosen by the Washington Mystics.

“It was my dream,” she said. “But there’s the other side of success…I thought I had to put on a front – couldn’t let people know there was a chink in my armor.”

The event included remarks by Kellie LeDet, Kean chief government affairs officer and special assistant to the president; Craig Coughlin Jr., director of Government Affairs and Community Partnerships; Debbie Ann Anderson, Union County director of human services; and Lauretta Farrell, D.Litt., director of the Human Rights Institute at Kean.

Attendees at the Summit also included faith leaders, educators and social workers. The group further discussed mental health issues in small-group roundtable sessions.

“The first step is really identifying what college students’ mental health needs are and how we can come together to address these needs,” Farrell said.

Nancy B. Graham, LCSW, of the Renfrew Center in Paramus, works with clients with eating disorders. She said she found the summit valuable.

“When we talk about mental health and different topics, there’s definitely an understanding that they’re connected,” she said.

Several of those who shared Holdsclaw’s table during the breakout sessions were from Kean Athletics, including Athletic Director Kelly Williams and Brian Doherty, Kean’s women’s head soccer coach.

“I learned a lot from Chamique’s talk,” Doherty said. “I also learned how involved Kean is in the community, and how we are involved in the issue of mental health.”