NFL players work to ease mental health stigma

NFL players work to ease mental health stigma

By ROB MAADDI, AP Professional Football Writer

NFL pressures were getting to Marcus Smith II.

He had failed to live up to expectations of being Philadelphia’s first pick, leading to anxiety, depression, panic attacks, his release by the Eagles – and a move across the board. country to Seattle. Smith didn’t talk about his mental health because he didn’t want anyone to think he wasn’t strong enough to play in the league.

On his way to Seahawks practice in August 2018, he pulled up to the edge of a hill, ready to go. A call from his pregnant wife and mother-in-law changed his mind. He went to practice and told coach Pete Carroll and defensive line coach Cliff Hurtt what happened.

“(Carroll) supported me in every way he could. He actually helped me find this therapist, let me know I was going to be okay,” said Smith, who was drafted in 2014. It took me at least six, seven months to go through all the things from the past that I never touched on…. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have done what I was doing and I probably wouldn’t be here today.

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Smith dedicated himself to making sure other players didn’t reach the breaking point he was at. He is also among many former active NFL players who are sharing their personal stories to break the stigma around mental health and encourage people to seek the help they need. The league and the NFL Players Association also provide resources for teams.

“I really think we’re going in the right direction with guys opening up and going to get help,” Smith said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “I just want to make sure it’s not too late. That’s why we have to keep talking about it.

Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins has been striving to educate people about mental health — or brain wellness, as he likes to call it — since his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

Two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins, who retired after last season, has spoken openly about weekly therapy sessions helping him deal with stress because he wants young men to know it’s not not a weakness.

Six-time Pro Bowl catcher Brandon Marshall has become a strong mental health advocate since being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder during his playing career.

Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Chris Hubbard hosts an annual mental health event through his Overcoming Together foundation. Hubbard was drawn to the question after a friend in high school committed suicide.

“I know for a lot of us, especially the African American community, it’s not talked about,” Hubbard said. “I wanted to get to a level where I can help others, let people know that you’re not alone, that we’re in this together and we can get through it together.”

Free agent safety Douglas Middleton, who played six seasons with six teams, started Dream the Impossible Foundation to serve those struggling with mental health issues after his best friend died by suicide in 2017.

Middleton emphasizes the importance of proactively seeking therapy.

“I always tell people it’s not something you do in response to a bad day,” he said. “It’s more like how can I make sure I’m not having a bad day, how can I be the best version of myself. You’re not going to lift weights when you’re feeling down. You are going to lift weights to continue to feel good, look good and be a healthy person.So you have to treat your mental health like your physical.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed in May 2019 to increase mental health resources available to players and club staff. Each team must have a licensed behavioral health clinician on staff, as well as a pain management specialist.

The Players Union provides all players with a clinician directory to help them find a clinician near them, be it a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counsellor.

With their insurance, all players receive up to eight free counseling sessions at no cost. NFL Life Line offers suicide prevention, crisis management and on-the-spot problem-solving services with trained crisis counselors.

There is also an additional health benefit through The Trust, which serves players who have or have had at least two seasons in the NFL, which gives former players access to outpatient psychiatry and counseling services in their communities. of origin. And the Professional Athletes Foundation provides wellness tips and resources for former players.

“We don’t want this gloomy image around mental health,” Smith said. “It’s a journey you can overcome.”

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi

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