Cougars Fan Tips Hat to Mental Health at CofC

Cougars Fan Tips Hat to Mental Health at CofC

Bryan Derrickson knows that even when it comes to matters of the heart you’ve got to use your head.

That’s why, after losing a friend to suicide and struggling with his own depression, he let his newfound passion for promoting mental health awareness and suicide prevention go straight to his head — and to hundreds of others’ heads, as well — with a line of hats called bdvibez.

“I just knew that I wanted to give to this cause that is so near and dear to my heart: I wanted to spread mental health awareness – but I still needed to make a living,” says the self-proclaimed diehard Cougars basketball fan. “I thought, ‘I’ll put positive words on some fun hats, and put a cap on suicide through upbeat, positive vibes.’ And now I have this really cool line of products that is raising awareness and getting people talking.”

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Not only that, bdvibez – which stands for Beat Depression (or, alternatively, Bryan Derrickson) through positive vibes – is raising money for the College of Charleston’s Counseling and Substance Abuse Services (CASAS). For every hat sold, $2 goes to counseling group’s suicide prevention and mental health awareness efforts. With $10,000 in sales over a six-month period, that makes a difference.

The 940 bdvibez hats displayed on Rivers Green last November represent the estimated number of CofC students who seriously consider suicide every year, according to the CDC’s nationwide statistics.

In November 2016, he teamed up with CASAS and Connect 2 Hope CofC to really drive home the issue with “Hats for Hope.” Derrickson and the two campus groups displayed 940 bdvibez hats across Rivers Green to represent the estimated number of CofC students who likely seriously consider suicide every year based on nationwide statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“It told a very vivid story, and it was really amazing because people really did spend time looking at the hats, really taking them in,” says Derrickson. “I think it’s things like this that help reduce the stigma – put a cap on the shame.”

VIDEO: See the ABC News 4 coverage of bdvibez at the Connect to Hope event last fall.

“That kind of visual impact is both nonthreatening and provocative – it’s a great way to engage the community,” says Rachael McNamara, head of health education with CASAS. “Bryan does that well – he has the energy and the visibility to bring people in. He is active at the basketball games, and the hats are just one more way to broach the subject, to get the message out there, to make the topic of suicide less taboo and more approachable.”

A Cougars season ticket holder with seats on the floor, Derrickson proudly wears his bdvibez “Cougz” hat backwards at every basketball game.

“The people in front of me aren’t looking at me, but the people behind me can see my message, ‘Cougz’! Cougars basketball is the best ticket in town — that’s the place to be, and a lot of people are there,” he says. “That’s a lot of people getting positive vibes, and some of them ask questions about the hat. I’ve had people stop me at games and ask me to design one in memory of a loved one they lost to suicide.”

And that’s the thing, Derrickson says: A lot of people have been touched by suicide, and a lot of people don’t talk about it.

RELATED: Read what the Huffington Post had to say about Derrickson as a social entrepreneur.

“The hats open up a conversation for a lot of people – they start talking to me about their experiences with suicide. It’s therapeutic for them to tell their stories,” he says. “Everybody has a story, and we need to tell those stories.”

McNamara agrees that telling those stories can make a difference.

“We need to talk about suicide – we need to make suicide something we can talk about,” she says. “We can’t advocate for mental health if we’re not talking. So, there’s a lot to be gained there.”

And Derrickson is doing his part in gaining in on depression and mental health. In addition to CASAS at the College, Derrickson’s hats are supporting the Medical University of South Carolina’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Institute of Psychiatry and individuals suffering from mental illness and homelessness in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“The biggest partnership is still CofC, but we’ve built some great partnerships throughout the community,” says Derrickson. “We most recently partnered with Doctor On Demand, offering a coupon code for a free consultation with a real doctor. That’s huge.”

But it’s the partnerships with the people – the families who have lost loved ones to depression – that Derrickson cherishes the most.  Take, for example, a family in Mount Pleasant who lost a son to suicide in December.

“I didn’t know them, but I wanted to do something to let them know that someone understands – at least to a certain degree – their pain. So I made hats with their family name on them,” says Derrickson, who gave the hats to the family pro bono. “To be making those hats for this family that is suffering – and that they brought me into their lives at that time: That just made me more committed than ever. That was a gift for me.”

That family had another gift in store: $2,000 to go toward tags on the hats to explain the purpose and the message behind the bdvibez brand.

“I love it,” he says. “I love seeing people get involved in these hats, taking ownership of their stories through these simple hats. Anyone can help design them. These are your hats. They’re personal.”

Derrickson wouldn’t mind seeing them go national, either.

“I have dreams of this brand growing — going to all the big colleges, state by state, with the sales benefiting different organizations in that state,” he says. “But for now, I’m just excited to see where these messages can take us — how far these vibes can go.”

However far they go, Derrickson is proud of how far they’ve already come — although he’s not getting a big head about it.

“They’re just words on hats — it’s a simple concept,” he says. “But words become stories, and stories have a big impact, especially when they’re not just in your head.”

bdvibez hats are available for purchase onlineat Bert’s Market on Folly Beach and Odyssey Surf Shop and Tasi Bites and Blends in Mt. Pleasant or through CofC students and bdvibez ambassadors Billie Powell and Grace Connor.

Featured image by Reese Moore. Other photos provided by Derrickson.