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The ProtoStar Foundation announced Wednesday that the Matt Stevenson Junior Tennis Tournament series — intended to promote the importance of mental health for adolescents — will start with a San Diego tournament beginning Saturday.

Inaugurated in 2019 in San Diego, the tournament is expanding to New York and Washington, D.C. The series aims to address the national teen depression, anxiety and suicide crisis by “engaging adolescents through a sport they love and promoting dialogue and understanding of these issues,” according to a statement from the foundation.

The San Diego event will run singles and doubles Saturday through Monday at the Mountain View Sports & Racquet Club, 6401 Skyline Drive. The tournaments are sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association.

As part of the series, the ProtoStar Foundation is collaborating with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to introduce The Power of Mental Health, an awareness campaign providing a forum to talk about depression, anxiety and suicide prevention. Tables at the tournaments will provide information for the junior players on what signs to look for and where to get help. Parents and coaches can also sign up for online or in-person workshops conducted by AFSP.

“Depression, anxiety, and suicide are difficult topics to talk about both in sports and in everyday life, but they must be addressed,” said Gary Poon, president and founder of the ProtoStar Foundation. “This is a very critical time in mental health, and our hope is that the MSJTT Series and The Power of Mental Health campaign will help make this topic part of the conversation — whether on the tennis court, in the locker room, or around the kitchen table,” Poon said.

According to JAMA Pediatrics, one in six U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. The suicide rate among children and adolescents between ages 10 and 19, according to federal officials, has risen by 56% from 2007 to 2016, and is the second-leading cause of death for young people.

“Society today focuses on teaching kids to work hard and persistently pursue their passions, and this is emphasized even more in sports,” said Lisa Horowitz, staff scientist and clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health. “Helping young people start these important conversations with trusted adults is a critical suicide prevention strategy.

“We need to help young people understand that being mentally healthy in life is different from mental toughness in competition,” Horowitz said. “Seizing chances to talk to kids when they are engaged in what they love to do, like playing tennis, can help them understand that they aren’t alone and help is available.”

The inspiration behind the MSJTT Series came from the late Matt Stevenson, a tennis professional who ran junior tennis programs in the Washington, D.C. area. Before taking his own life in 2017 at the age of 32, he had written extensively about his own mental health issues and had asked that kids be made aware of the importance of staying mentally healthy and to seek help if they needed it.

“If we can make a positive difference in just one kid’s life, the tournaments will be worth all the time, effort, and resources we are putting into them,” Poon said.

All fees and donations from the tournaments will benefit the Matt Stevenson Junior Tennis Fund, which supports junior tennis programs in low-to- moderate income areas. A portion of the net proceeds may also be donated to the tournament site’s junior tennis programs.

The New York event will be held Sept. 17-19 and the Washington, D.C. event will be Oct. 2-3.

–City News Service

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