The people that carry the most weight sometimes brandish the biggest smiles.
They willingly push their way through life with hardly a hint of the realities that lie beneath the smiling face that the rest of the world sees and reacts to.
It’s particularly common amongst student-athletes who are discouraged from speaking out due to the ongoing stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.
Those are topics that people tend to run away from because of the taboo nature surrounding them.
But Hania Taduran isn’t running.
She couldn’t run away even if she tried.
The junior University of the Pacific volleyball athlete has overcome unspeakable pain and grief to get to where she is today.
In many ways, the sport of volleyball served as a conduit to channel all of the emotions from multiple personal tragedies.
“Beach volleyball is my constant in a lifetime of inconsistency, when I was constantly moving and losing loved ones,” said Taduran.
“I made it to the Division I level because I never gave up. I was able to improve not only my skill but also my mindset towards not just volleyball, but life.”
When Taduran was only six years old, she endured the tragedy of her father committing suicide. That sort of heartbreak is unbearable at any age, but for a child, it can be unimaginable.
After her father’s passing, her family moved around a lot. She has lived in the Philippines, Kansas and different parts of California.
Taduran was always on the move while dealing with the grief of her father — the sport of volleyball served as her only real constant.
The pain, however, also served as inspiration to study psychology.
“The one thing I’ve always held on to growing up is that I wanted to understand a little bit more about my dad because he was bipolar, and that’s kind of what led him to commit suicide,” said Taduran.
“Being at such a young age, I didn’t understand why that happened or even what bipolar was. So, I made it my life goal to understand. You know, as a child, it’s so easy to blame yourself for something like that. Was it my fault? Did he not want to be around me. What was he thinking? There was a lot of blame, and then I decided I was going to figure out the reason. As I got older, I always knew I wanted to study psychology.”
Taduran’s decision to pursue an education in psychology had a lot to do with the death of her father, but it was also brought on by the time she spent with the therapist she’d been seeing throughout grade school.
The two became really close to the point where she started to look to him as a father figure to sort of help fill that void.
His presence in her life gave her newfound hope that everything was going to be alright in the end.
And tragically, that light was snuffed out as well when Taduran had to endure a heartbreak all over again.
“We had become really close, and I even told him one time that I wished he could be my dad because he was like a father figure to me,” said Taduran.
“He just gave me a lot of hope, and he was around a lot. But then he committed suicide, as well, during my senior year of high school. That caused me to have to relive everything that I had just worked so hard to move on and heal from.”
“Especially being older at the time, it was such a different experience than my father’s death. The grief was very different, even though it felt similar. It was mainly due to the fact that it happened to someone that was telling me things would be okay, but things weren’t okay for him. If he couldn’t have that hope, how could I ever have it? Not only did I want to be a psychologist after that happened, I wanted to be a therapist, too.”
The formation of Breaking Barriers
Taduran stayed true to those career goals, along with her endless love for volleyball, when making the decision to attend University of the Pacific.
The school had a growing beach volleyball program, which was something that was of great interest to her. It also allowed her to remain in the state of California, while being just far enough from home to get a legitimate college experience.
But even after enrolling in the psychology program, Taduran wasn’t going to wait around for a degree to start raising awareness for mental health, particularly in the world of athletics.
The stigma surrounding mental health for student-athletes is pretty high, considering they coincide with the expectations of a competitor.
Athletes are expected to be resilient and tough both mentally and physically, with the ability to push through things. Mental health matters and it’s imperative to a student-athlete’s ability to find success both inside and outside of a sport.
That knowledge led Taduran to create the group “Breaking Barriers” in an effort to create real change by eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health and putting it directly in the spotlight.
“I created Breaking Barriers because I wasn’t going to just sit around until it was too late to cause change,” said Taduran. “Student-athletes greatly benefit in their performance when they have a safe and open environment around them to express their struggles.”
Ending the stigma
The Breaking Barriers group meets every other week, and Taduran structures it by selecting a topic and giving a brief PowerPoint presentation.
She then gives everyone a couple of journal prompts based on the topic, and after they finish, they discuss the topic in detail while also sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings.
As they get into the group sharing, athletes start getting more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, especially after realizing it’s a safe and open space. Some even get comfortable enough to delve into personal stories and experiences.
It’s a launching pad for a movement Taduran hopes to see span across the nation.
“I think athletes doing this themselves really raises the standard because this is important to us,” Taduran said.
“My big goal is for there to be a “Breaking Barriers” club in every college athletic department across the nation. I think the short-term goal right now is to get sports psychologists involved as well. I think it’s really important for people to recognize the difference between the additional struggles and isolation pressures that no one else really relates to other than a Division I athlete.”
“With all the news about athletes losing their lives because of mental health struggles, it’s something that’s just so heavily needed. Someone who specializes in mental health in athletes is so critical to make us feel heard, cared for, and important. Not to mention, it will also elevate our minds and improve our athletic abilities.”
While widening the scope is certainly an aspiration for Taduran, she’s still completely focused on the initial objective of reaching at least one person and saving a life.
That’s the goal that initially prompted this journey in the aftermath of personal tragedy.
It’s the one goal she has clung to since the very beginning: breaking barriers, one person at a time.
“I created Breaking Barriers and want to share my story with the world because if it can reach and help just one person, I will have succeeded. I hope if someone relates to some of my grief, depression or struggles, they can hear my story and understand that things truly do get better,” Taduran said.
“Healing is not linear. It will never just be magically gone, but it does get better. I hope it allows others to want to speak up, to want to go against the silence, the stigma and the social pressures forcing upon us the idea that mental health and suicide is too taboo to speak about. I hope others feel inspired to make change and never stop trying, too”