April 29, 2024

Soccer star: ‘Let’s talk about mental health’

Naomi Girma, a sports ambassador for Kaiser Permanente, is passionate about helping people find the hope and support they need.

Girma is a defender for the San Diego Wave Fútbol Club and the U.S. women’s national soccer team. She meditates as part of her self-care routine.

Naomi Girma is one of the leading soccer players in the nation. She was one of the USA’s top players in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. And she was voted the 2023 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.

Girma wants to use her voice to help change the conversation about mental health.

“In the past few years, I’ve realized just how crucial it is to talk openly about our emotional health,” she said. “Too many people are struggling in silence.”

Since 2022, Kaiser Permanente has been the San Diego Wave Fútbol Club’s official health partner and trusted provider of team physicians. And Girma is Kaiser Permanente's first female sports ambassador.

“Influential members of our community, like Naomi, are in a unique position to help people understand the importance of prioritizing their emotional well-being,” said Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health.

Girma recently answered our questions about her role as a mental health champion.

What inspired you to advocate for mental health and partner with Kaiser Permanente?

As a professional athlete, I feel like I have a responsibility to use my platform for good. And Kaiser Permanente is an organization that stands for many things I believe in.

I think we can help a lot of people through this partnership. We all need to know we’re valued as the person we are, and not just for our performance.

How has your soccer career and your personal journey influenced the way you think about mental health?

My parents ingrained in me the value of a strong community since I was a little girl. I’m from San Jose, California, and I started playing soccer at a young age with an Ethiopian community group my dad put together.

Feeling like you’re part of a team has always been one of my favorite parts about soccer. Our connection with other people is so important.

When you’re successful, it feels more special because you share it with other people. And when you aren’t, you have to pick each other up and keep going together.

How do you stay grounded in the face of stress and adversity?

When I’m facing big moments, I can put a lot of pressure on myself. It’s easy to worry about the next game or getting to the next round in a tournament. But the more I can stay in the moment and just focus on the next play, the better I do.

My family really helps me stay grounded. They don’t treat me like some superstar — to them, I’m just Naomi. It always helps when my mom reminds me that the whole reason I started playing in the first place is just to have fun.

What do you do to prioritize your mental health and self-care?

The mind-body connection is so important. Your mind can either be a huge help or hold you back. This year, I’m focused on setting clear intentions in my mind before a game and then just going out and performing.

I also like to journal. I'm definitely an overthinker. If I mess up in training, I can dwell on it for hours. But getting my thoughts down on paper helps me clear my head. Then I feel good to go the next day.

How do you try to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions?

One of the best things we can do is create open lines of communication. If we ask our friends and teammates for help when we need it, they’ll feel more comfortable asking for help in return.

We often keep our feelings to ourselves because we don’t want to feel like a burden. But we underestimate just how much people enjoy helping each other. It feels so good when we can come through for someone we care about.

Find resources and self-care strategies to support your well-being.