NFL players talk about mental health problems
Darius Leonard was a 17-year-old high school football player who was focused on his dream of making it to the NFL when his closest brother was killed at the age of 19. The Indianapolis Colts linebacker says he fell into a dark blur after his death, which affected him not only mentally but also physically. He lost weight and struggled with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.
âI fought, I fought for a long time and then I had to go to advice,â says Leonard. “I just feel like the more you talk about it, the freer you can be.”
Leonard says he turned to poetry to help him get through the difficult times and relied on the strength of his family and friends until he was strong enough to fight back on his own. âIt’s okay not to be okay,â he muses. âThis thing we’re going through, life, isn’t perfect. There are so many times that you face so many obstacles and you feel like the world is against you, but you have to keep fighting, keep fighting and never give up. “
Now he and other NFL players are sharing their stories as part of the Indianapolis Colts’ effort to “kick the stigma”. The initiative focuses on raising awareness of mental disorders and removing the shame and stigma they say are all too often associated with these diseases, while also raising money for nonprofits working in work in education, support and mental health advocacy.
“Fighting the stigma is our commitment to rooting out and changing this environment,” says Colts owner Jim Irsay. âFighting the stigma is our call to all of our brothers and sisters to fight this thing. It is our reason to give hope to change the environment and the disease that lives around us will have no place if you have the boots on the ground if you want to attack the stigma and remove it so people can seek help and get well. “
A Kicking the Stigma virtual fundraiser this spring raised $ 4.5 million to distribute to Indiana-based nonprofits that either provide mental illness treatment or mental health awareness services.
The Colts hosted a round table discussion to highlight the struggles and triumphs of NFL players battling mental health issues, hosted by TV host Carson Daly. Daly talked about his own struggles with mental health, including a panic attack during a live show in the early 2000s. “I am one of the tens of millions of people who have silently suffered with mental health,” says Daly. “I didn’t know then, but for decades I thought I was broken and was finally getting therapy.”
The round table discussion included Leonard, Las Vegas Raiders Defensive Tackle Solomon Thomas, Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst and Raiders tight end Darren Waller. âThe biggest thing we can do is talk and be vulnerable,â says Thomas. “Then we connect with someone. We are all human, we will have ups and downs in life, but it’s important to talk about it.”
As the Colts work to select which charities will benefit from their first Kick the Stigma fundraiser, Thomas hopes the discussion it sparked will spur people who fight like he used to for help search. âI know that I’m not the only one,â says Thomas. “Every time I tell my story, I realize that I’m not the only one who’s been through something like this.” By opening up, he says, “You never know who else it will help.”
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with over a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of major news events such as the Sandy Hook School shooting, the Watertown, MA lockdown after the Boston bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have won awards, including an emphasis on treating mental health problems in children. She is currently a reporter for a television broadcaster that covers the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.