The Skater’s Brain

Mental Health Issues are Pervasive in Skateboarding. What Can We Do to Help?

I started working on this article a few months ago after learning about the death of Henry Gartland, a 21 year old Santa Cruz am that seemed to be hurdling toward a promising professional skateboarding career. To the outside observer, it seemed like Henry was achieving his dreams. But the shock and heartbreak that followed his death was another reminder that appearances rarely reflect an authentic emotional state. 



Shortly after, a close friend I grew up skating with was shot and killed by police on the Seattle waterfront while experiencing a mental health crisis. Derek was a sensitive, smart, compassionate human that like many of us, struggled at times. Processing that one has taken time. But May is Mental Health Awareness Month so we out here! As a person who has struggled with mental health for most of my life, I feel a huge responsibility to helping other people navigate these issues. 


Sadly, that was far from my first experience with losing a good friend to depression and/or addiction. When something like this happens, you ask yourself a lot of questions. What happened? What could I have done to help? Did I fail this person? How long had they been suffering so bad?


Mental health is the ultimate foundation. During times of depression and anxiety, it’s much harder- often impossible- to build & maintain a positive, productive life. Without a solid base, there’s a good chance your house will eventually fall down. But it is possible to go in there and add some braces and support beams. Jack that puppy up and stabilize! 


When people write about mental health, there is almost always an 800 number included, which is good. But what works for one person might not for another, and we need other options. It’s pretty much a consensus that a good first step is to start and foster a conversation within your community, and a few skater-led organizations (see below) have started doing just that. 


With the intention of participating in this very important convo, I randomly reached on instagram inviting some people to comment. The reactions I received totally exceeded my expectations; the new skateboarding paradigm cares deeply about this subject. Learning that people who you love and respect struggle in a similar way stirs up feelings of validation and HOPE. Thanks so much to those who provided their thoughts, let’s keep it going. Take the time to check in with someone you love today. We really are all in this together.  -Migz

Can you believe that this gelatinous chemical pudding can be so important to your wellbeing? Pretty trippy.
I’m glad the stigma has changed around mental health and I hope the youth will have more access to information, we should learn about mental health in school. Ive struggled with anxiety and bouts of depression my whole life. I’ve finally come to a place where I have less of a problem in saying ‘hey, I’m feeling kind of anxious right now’. I never could have said that as a kid. I thought people would look at me weird or say I just wanted attention. I have obsessive and spiraling thoughts so talking about things reduces it significantly.
Shari White
Vancouver BC
As somebody who has mental health disorders that run in the family it’s super important for me to keep my mind occupied. Your mind is beautiful but can easily turn into a dark place and that’s why I turn to skateboarding. It has been an amazing distraction and although i continue to battle with my mind skateboarding is the one thing that really can help ease most of the pain. Everybody’s mind works differently and there is no “one size fits all regimen” when it comes to tackling mental health find what works for you and stick to it the best you can. My heart goes out to the ones we have lost within the community and they will forever be remembered as vibrant beautiful beings.
Ariana Bessa
Eugene OR
I guess having (quite stupidly) dealt with depression myself - and I say ‘quite stupidly’ because I thought it was something I and I alone could work my way out of - I learnt it is one of the biggest liars you’ll ever meet. I struggled when I was younger and certain habits formed as a way to deal with everyday stresses at school. These feelings were all bottled up in my head and thinking too much turned to obsessive behavior that lead to eating disorders and a pretty dark depression for a good couple of years. When I say biggest liar I mean that it made me lie. I had a front the whole time which on the outset would seem like I was pretty happy. When friends noticed something wasn’t quite right and would ask if I was ok, I’d lie. Straight to their faces. I didn’t want anyone knowing what was ‘wrong’ with me. I didn’t think anything was wrong and I thought the way I was dealing with things was the only way to go about it. Obviously this was not. Anyway I felt ashamed I guess and didn’t want any attention. Eventually I had a break down and tried to find things I thought could be a solution. I got really ill and realised I really didn’t look or feel right. After that it was a very slow process but I booked a bunch of flights one summer for a bunch of skate events and trips with friends. Since getting older I’ve had the chance to reflect back on it and recognise signs of where I and others might not be looking after themselves as much as they should. Even if you think someone is fine. Push the ‘are you ok?’ questions further. Don’t settle for ‘I’m fine’ because a lot of the time there’s more to it and no one is ever just ‘fine’. Also don’t be afraid or ashamed to say something. Ever.
Helena Long
London UK
Always remember tomorrow’s a new day. What you’re feeling now shall pass and there are so many exciting things to look forward to in the future. Fun, family, friends and adventure await! Don’t hesitate to tell people how you feel and check in with friends who might be doing it tough. It’s really easy to get caught up in your own head, so if you’re able to express yourself and it get it off your chest you’ll feel a million times better. Art, music and skating all help. Look for an outlet and a silver lining will burst through to clear the dark clouds away
Growing up a skateboarder, most of my friends were skateboarders. In our small town we were the freaks, labeled all sorts of terrible things by all of our peers all the time. Many of my friends went through mental illness and talked openly about their emotions. As these experiences began to compound I thought maybe there was some commonality between people that skateboard and mental illness. I quickly realized quite the opposite. Skateboarders are more free to discuss their emotions and experiences. We need to foster an open conversation in skateboarding, with the community and with your friends on mental illness.
It’s definitely not talked about enough, in the skate community and amongst men separately. Why? That’s an answer I’ve been looking for myself most of my life. It’s always, “I’m here if you need me.” Not, “hey how’ve you been?” Until it’s too late. My friend committed suicide and I probably could have done something about it if I took it seriously. I live with that every day on top of my own mental health issues. Being a skateboarder there’s this idea of us needing to be tough, mentally and physically, but history shows that’s rarely the case. Most of us got into skateboarding because we felt like there was no other place we belonged. If you feel alienated or isolated in the one group/family you have, it’s going to weigh down on you.
Keegan Root
San Jose CA
RIP Henry🖤 mental health is just as important if not MORE than your physical health, I say that cause the fact that literally your brain chemicals can also affect your physical health. So being ill mentally can make you both as well. Depression, anxiety, ptsd, and other mental illnesses are pretty stigmatized and people are uncomfortable to talk about it. We have to normalize speaking on this topic so we can save lives. If you are ever struggling know that you are NOT alone. I promise. First hand. Been to that point before myself. Please reach out to a loved one or hotline. I’m always available to reach as well as @apositiveseed our roots are in skateboarding but it’s a much bigger picture, spreading mental health awareness, planting seeds of growth/ healing/ positivity in yourself and onto others. Please reach out to us. Much love🌱❤️ 💫
It’s sad to see or hear others who still look down on those who struggle with mental health. I often think it’s fear from people who don’t have an understanding. They come up with scenarios to believe those who struggle are lying, just want attention or it’s an excuse. If we can open up and educate those around us, maybe it will get better. Skateboarding is so beautiful. Everyone is different, everyone is welcomed...but when it comes to mental health, it’s still a sore subject. I’ve had a few horrible experiences when I was called a liar. Those who are willing to learn/listen will get it. For others who are close minded or grew up never showing weakness might not. I think it could stem from upbringing or environment.


As someone who has been doing therapy weekly for 5 years, I try to relay information I learn to friends, saving the time and money a professional requires! So here’s a couple nuggets that have helped me. When you are experiencing that horrible dark cloud, treat yourself the same way you would treat a friend. When someone you love makes a mistake, goes through a breakup or just feels like shit, you would treat them with total compassion and understanding, right? Most importantly, when things get really tough you gotta just👏get👏through it, however you can. Things WILL turn around. Life is hard but also… surprising! When you’re in a vulnerable state, recognize that fact as reality and try not to listen to the negativity that’s attempting to coup d’état your brain. Sometimes it takes therapy and others, a simple distraction can help! Here are some suggestions for things to do as you wait for your mental makeover to kick in:

Skateboarding's cool and all but so is being a positive resource for your friends.


Created in the memory of professional skater Ben Raemers. Social media content created to raise awareness of mental health issues, films highlighting skater’s personal journeys in mental health, and suicide prevention training for skate teams and crews, managers, professional skateboarders, photographers and skate shops across the globe.

Striving to advance research, safety, and education around the complexities of the human brain, specifically Traumatic Brain Injuries, in the memory of Henry Gartland.

A campaign created by skateboarder and advocate for mental health awareness, John Rattray in the memory of his sister. John uses his voice to enact positive change and help open up the conversation about suicide prevention in skateboarding and elsewhere. 

A movement that raises awareness by spreading positivity in the world and inspiring other people to do the same, created by Michigan skateboarder Christiana Smith. An all-inclusive community and resource for skaters and non-skaters, with the mission of creating positively directed vision and actions. 


The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’re committed to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices, and building awareness. 1-800-273-8255

OK2TALK is a community where teens and young adults struggling with mental health conditions can find a safe place to talk about what they’re experiencing by sharing their personal stories of recovery, tragedy, struggle or hope. Anyone can add their voice by sharing stories, poems, inspirational quotes, photos, videos, song lyrics and messages of support in a safe, moderated space. Web and phone resources 1 (800) 273-TALK.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.


Don’t feel like talking? Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling