By Kim Constantinesco
As a golfer, Daniel Berlin, 17, is familiar with what it’s like to battle the mind. He knows that with too large of a push, an “easy” four-foot putt can carry ten feet past the hole, or that a beautiful 280-yard drive can roll into a small but deep bunker.
The teen from Chagrin Falls, Ohio appreciates the mental challenges that come with the sport. However, he also realizes the golf course isn’t the only place where battlefields emerge in the brain.
Growing up with a cousin who has bipolar disorder, Berlin has bulldozed his way into an advocate role for those with mental illness.
This summer, he was awarded the 2016 USGA-AJGA Presidents’ Leadership Award, given by the United States Golf Association and American Junior Golf Association to one male and one female junior golfer who demonstrate extraordinary leadership, character, and service in their communities.
Berlin took home the honor for his work with LifeAct, an organization that delivers lifesaving suicide education prevention programs to middle schools and high schools in northeast Ohio.
With suicide being the second-leading cause of death among people 10 to 24 years old, and with mental health being a closeted subject, Berlin has happily put the issue on his shoulders in order to shine the spotlight on it.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that having insight into one’s mental health condition, which means being open with family and friends who can recognize signs of relapse, is critical to a lasting recovery,” he said.
Berlin started playing golf with his father and grandfather at four years old. He played on and off throughout his childhood, but didn’t become serious about the sport until he entered high school.
The scratch golfer plays for Chagrin Falls High School, about 30 minutes from Cleveland. In the summer of 2013, his coach suggested that he volunteer at a golf outing for a local organization called the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance, which then became LifeAct.
He quickly did his research on the organization, and loved that they raise awareness for those who are impacted by mental illness. So, he joined their youth advisory board, and today, he serves as president.
The subject sits near and dear to his heart. His 19-year-old cousin, Anna, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was just seven.
The disorder impacts mood, energy, and activity levels in unusual and dramatic ways. The illness can be characterized by a string of depressive days followed by manic, or high-energy, days.
“Growing up around her and seeing all the obstacles that she has overcome in her life, I felt a personal connection to the mission of this organization,” Berlin said of his work with LifeAct. “Anna has been the inspiration and motivation behind all of my community service.”
In addition to giving his time to LifeAct, Berlin has also raised more than $4,000 for the organization. More important than the money, however, is the message he wants the world to receive.
“Mental illness is not something that you have to keep to yourself,” Berlin said. “Too often, there’s an unfounded stigma associated with conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. My goal is to spread the important message that kids can manage these illnesses like they can any other disease. They can get well and remain healthy. They are just like the rest of us.”
Jack of All Trades
Because of his volunteer work, which extends past LifeAct, and into the Cleveland Clinic ALS Research Program, Berlin was invited to the Rolex Tournament of Champions in Georgia, where he received the Presidents’ Leadership Award — something that clearly transcends golf.
The high school senior, who has a 4.6 GPA and scored a perfect 36 on his ACT, anticipates majoring in engineering or one of the sciences once he gets to college.
He’s also a very talented pianist. So gifted that in sixth grade, he won a competition in Cincinnati which sent him to Carnegie Hall to play.
“Piano is one of my favorite parts of the day because it provides an escape from the routine of school, homework, and going to the golf course,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do without piano. Tying it into mental health, time at the piano allows me to play pieces that match my mood. Music definitely gives me a welcome avenue to vent my frustrations.”
And it’s when youth are more tuned in to their thoughts and feelings, whether on the golf course or not, adjustments can be made.
Therapy can be embraced, prescribed medication can be utilized, or simply voicing daily struggles to loved ones can make a difference.
And most importantly, save lives.