Last Monday, October 10, was World Mental Health Day in 150 countries around the world. The annual event, first celebrated in 1992, is a program to bring attention to mental illness and its effects on people around the world. The theme of this year’s program was Making mental health and well-being for all a global priority.
For Jets defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, mental health is a personal priority. Her dear sister Ella, a bubbly young woman who suffered from anxiety and depression took her own life in 2018 aged 24.
“It shocked the world of my family,” Thomas, 27, told team reporter Eric Allen and former linebacker Bart Scott on this week’s edition of “The Official Jets Podcast.” “I didn’t know much about mental health, this taboo thing. People were telling me ‘sorry for your loss’, but they didn’t understand. You could feel that this stigma was this burden, this thing that you couldn’t really touching. It affected my grieving process. We were close, and I just lost her.
“It was the guilt of missing that person. I was the third choice [by San Francisco] in the 2017 draft and I felt pressure not to perform. I felt like I couldn’t talk about my sister and my struggles. I thought people would say I was weak, so I didn’t talk about my emotions or how hard my life was or how dark I was. I arrived in a dark place, I didn’t want to be here and I was really struggling. It was hard to wake up, hard to go to work, hard to see the light of day. I was approached by my old boss [49ers GM] John Lynch who gave me permission to get help. I learned to manage my emotions, to honor my anger, my sadness and my depression. I learned different coping mechanisms and was thrown into the world of mental health, and I got better. Now I can go out there and talk about my journey.”
Thomas, along with his mother, father and cousin realized that others had been forced to face their grief and were realizing missed signals. Together they formed The Defensive Line, a foundation whose “mission is to end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for people of color by connecting and transforming the way we connect about health mentally,” Thomas said, “by going to schools [he gave a talk at Clifton High School on Tuesday night], businesses, sports programs and teaching mentors how to have a better mental health environment. How to have the language to talk about it, address the warning signs and what to do in crisis situations.”
Thomas, signed by the Jets in free agency, played with the 49ers from 2017 to 2020, spent one season with the Raiders, then joined the Jets. He was quick to point out that in NFL gladiator culture, the idea of tackling even a hint of mental wrestling had for years been frowned upon, seen as unmanly and a sign. of weakness. Things change, but perceptions are hard to change.
“There’s a changing narrative in the locker room,” Thomas said. “It’s huge, we spend more time being Clark Kent than Superman. It’s important to recognize that we are human beings. That we can’t always have this character that we are gladiators, that we can endure everything and rub the dirt in it.
“Hey, we’re human beings and we go through emotions and feelings, and it’s okay to be sad, depressed, anxious and having to find ways to cope and fight that. And to achieve as a ‘men it’s okay to talk, to have a safe place and say I’m not fine, can we talk or who can help. We are not taught to deal with the ups and downs of life, the diversity of emotions or the language given to describe it. There is so much pressure to be tough just to get through it. In reality, we are all going to go through emotions up and down that we pretend to be bad, like being sad, depressed, awkward, angry, and teaching others how to handle it. an NFL locker room, it got better. It got better. Me and other guys talking, telling stories – me, AJ Brown, Darius Leonard, Max Crosby – so many speaking outs opened up the space for guys to be human. in the NFL is full of pressure and expectations. I think we’ve opened up this space for gamers, and I hope it saves lives and teaches men in the gladiator space that w We can be sentient too, we can meditate, go to therapy, keep a journal . I think that space is really changing.”
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