Teens hosting tennis tournament to raise awareness on teen mental health and suicide

Teens hosting tennis tournament to raise awareness on teen mental health and suicide
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 10:46 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2023 at 1:02 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - “Mental health is just something that people really only feel comfortable with listening about whenever they hear that it’s over,” 16-year-old Kris Foster said.

Kris was once in a constant battle with her mental health, she’s dealt with depression since she was in middle school.

“I just got in a really dark place,” Kris said.

“I remember coming home from work and her sharing with me, you know, kids, sliding a note to her, saying ‘you’re not even that pretty, why don’t you go kill yourself?’ And then there are the mornings that I go to wake her up, and she’s in her bed, she’s sleep fully asleep, and tears are running down her eyes. And I’m like, we’ve got to get her some help,” said Evelyn, Foster’s mother.

Evelyn found a psychiatrist and Kris said eventually those resources made a world of a difference. Now, she’s using tennis to help bring awareness to teen mental health and suicide.

Foster and her tennis doubles partner Helen Bennington decided to host a tennis tournament for the International Baccalaureate Program at Hoggard High School, while also raising money for an organization near and dear to them, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“I talk about trying to normalize mental health issues, mental disorders, diagnoses, because it’s so common now, and especially post COVID. You know, we’re looking at, you know, 50%, 60% of students in high schools and colleges are, you know, dealing with these disorders,” Doug Engelman, president of NAMI Wilmington, said.

Engelman, who had two kids that battled with mental illnesses, says the proceeds from the tournament would send counselors to middle and high schools to educate kids about mental health and resources available in our area through a program called “Ending the Silence.”

The program has been around NAMI for years but would be new to Wilmington. Now, Kris is making every effort to make sure these plans come to fruition.

“I just want people to know that they have options for outreach that they might feel like they can’t keep to themselves,” Kris said.

The support from team sports helped Foster and Bennington deal with their challenges, and they hope playing tennis will help others too.

“We wanted to do some that we know what impact lives and maybe our lives. And mental health is something that is very important and needs to be talked about right now.”

For more information about the tournament, click here.

Staying active and supporting others

Kris has been an athlete most of her life, she’s been a swimmer and tennis player. As she struggled with negative thoughts and other mental health battles, she noticed that staying active and being surrounded by a team was a positive thing.

“Being active is just something that’s helped me because tennis has so many components that you need to focus on. Especially with doubles to like Helen, I need to make sure my partner is well and okay, I need to make sure that our communication is good, you need to focus on the ball, you need to focus on the points, the scores. Also, it just takes my mind off everything that’s going on in life. But I think activity in general, no matter what you do, when you’re focusing on what’s happening in the moment, you kind of put everything else on the back burner and it relieves stress,” Kris said.

Even if she was having a bad day, her team could help turn that around.

“They can kind of make or break you. I love to play with Helen,” Kris said. “Helen knows me. And so like, I’ll be down, I shake my head, she’s like, ‘Kris, get your head out here.’ It’s just stuff like that that really brings you up and motivates you.”

Playing doubles and being with a team pushes Kris to be the best version of herself. That’s why she wanted to make the tennis tournament a doubles tournament so that those playing had the same support she gets to help her thrive.

“I think it was one of the best ideas that we had because singles can be a very lonely game, and you’re in your head, and we’re trying to avoid people being in their head and enjoy the moment,” Kris added.

Bennington said for her having something to look forward to every day has helped her.

“It’s really a constant in a lot of people’s lives. So, if you have a practice that you go to every single day, at the same time, it’s kind of something that you look forward to,” Bennington said. “It’s just a time of day where you know that you’re going to go and spend time with people who are your friends, and we can have fun with and go and do activity to get your mind off and that I think that’s really helpful to have a constant to look forward to.”

Evelyn added that both Helen and Kris have learned an important lesson in life.

“That’s what I want these kids to know in life. You know, when you feel like you’re down on yourself or you feel like you’re not making the right strokes in life that you know, don’t give up. There are people here in your corner to encourage you and to help you get through to a winning end,” Evelyn said.

Going above and beyond

Kris and Helen both wanted to do more than your average fundraiser or community project. They thought of a cause that is important to them but also has an impact on the community.

“We really wanted to do a tournament that benefited a cause that was really important to us. And I think it’s gotten much more than just a requirement for the program at school. This has become something so much bigger,” Helen said.

Helen said the project for school needed to involve creativity, activity, and service.

“We just really wanted to make a change with something. We didn’t just want to do a simple, you know, drive or, you know, little thing. We wanted to do some that we know that impact lives and maybe our lives. And mental health is something that is very important and needs to be talked about right now, especially after quarantine, and everybody’s getting back into the idea of being in society. And I know, it’s a big struggle for a lot of people in our age groups, it’s still a big struggle for me. And I just want people to know that they have options for outreach that they might feel like they can’t keep to themselves, or only talk to their friends about or their family, like their people that are available for you. And in this tournament is a great combination of everything,” Kris said.

What is NAMI?

NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“It’s a national, the largest, grassroots national organization designed specifically to support individuals and families who are dealing with a mental illness crisis. And through education through peer support groups through information, education, educating not only the population but also providers in the area, and trying to bring the population and providers together,” Engelman said.

NAMI currently operates in all 50 states and nearly 300 cities across the country.

The tournament is happening Feb. 24- 26 at Empie Park in Wilmington. For more information about the tournament, click here.