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Players speak out about mental health awareness

Jake Burger wanted to get down everything that helped in his battle with depression and anxiety. So early in 2020, the Chicago White Sox infielder wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

“It was like a three-page paper with how much I wrote,” Burger told the Tribune.

He sent it to his wife, Ashlyn, who came up with “Burger BOMBS” — an acronym playing off the nickname for some of his tape-measure home runs.

The ”B” stands for “Be open.” The ”O” is for “Open a book.” The “M” is for “Meditate.” The other “B” is for “Break a sweat.” And ”S” is for “Set a routine.”

“We ran with it,” Burger said. “Over the last couple of years, it’s really come into mainstream that it’s OK to talk about your feelings and it’s OK to talk about what you’re struggling with.

“It’s really cool to see a lot of people start to open up about it and make it an easier issue to talk about.”

Burger and teammates Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech discussed the importance of mental health awareness in a video the Sox released Monday.

“It’s great seeing a professional sports team relay this message and bring awareness to how important it is,” Giolito told the Tribune. “Some things require help and I’m glad that we’re sending that message.

“I’ve had my struggles. Suffered from performance anxiety a number of years ago and that was something I had to get help for. It’s important that we all stay on top of it.”

Giolito said it helped turn his career around.

“People, when they talk about (20)18 to ‘19, they talk about the physical changes and all the adjustments I made,” he said. “But for me, the biggest adjustment was the adjustment I made with my brain. Being able to lessen the symptoms of anxiety, being able to feel super confident in my own skin on and off the field.

“And that’s what I believe was the most key factor in being able to find more success and consistency in my career field.”

Team psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Fishbein said mental, psychological and emotional health are priorities for the Sox.

“The White Sox have been really proactive in making sure the resources are available for these players to utilize, and they’ve been more at the front lines of this for many, many years,” Fishbein said in a phone interview. “They’ve done an excellent job in making sure that not only are players educated, but they know there is help available to them if they desire to use it.”

The organization recently developed and started a program specific to their 14-and-under and 16-and-under ACE (Amateur City Elite) programs.

Fishbein said it’s an opportunity to “teach them at an early age how important it is to utilize their mental approach to the game, but also how to take those same skills and utilize them for school, at home or even with themselves, so that they’re creating that psychological hardiness early on.”

Burger has been open about his mental health, including inviting anyone interested in talking or seeking help to reach out in a 2020 tweet.

“I know what kind of platform I have on social media, and there’s probably a lot of people out there hurting,” Burger said. “I want to make it clear to everybody what I was dealing with and keep my DMs open to anybody that’s struggling.”

As for his method, “Be open” was always the most important for him.

“When you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, any sort of mental health, it’s hard to open up about it,” Burger said. “It’s hard to talk about it because you don’t know how people are going to react. You don’t want to seem weak, you don’t want to seem like you can’t have it all figured out.

“For me, that was the most important step. When I started opening up about it to my family and friends, talking about it more, I began to realize how many people were dealing with similar stuff. That was always number one.”

When it comes to “Open a book,” Burger said it could be anything for a 30-minute mental escape from social media and technology.

“It was really big for me mentally,” he said.

Burger was able to slow down everything with meditation and would use a hike to “break a sweat.”

“It doesn’t have to be on a $2,000 Peloton or a gym membership,” Burger said. “Getting out in nature and feeling the fresh air really helped me reset.”

And being able to “set a routine” allowed him to go step by step, rather than looking at tasks as a whole.

“If I can cross off a ton of those small victories, they turn into bigger victories and you ultimately win the battle.”

Burger said the Sox “always understood what I was dealing with and battling, and I give thanks to them for being patient and helping me get through it and to be able to use their platform to get the message out too.”

Monday’s video coincided with Mental Health Awareness Month.

“If one person sees that and is like, ‘OK, this guy did it, I can do it too,’ then it’s a win,” Giolito said. “Because I want everyone to feel accepted. I want everyone to feel confident and be able to succeed in whatever they’re doing.”

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