Mov­ing for­ward, let’s end the stigma of men­tal ill­ness

The Dundalk Eagle - - EDITORIAL - By MIKE URSERY murs­ery@ches­

This month marks the re­turn of the NFL. Un­til Feb­ru­ary, most Amer­i­cans will be sit­ting in front of screens on Sun­days to watch games while they tune out the out­side world.

This month is also Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Month. Take a mo­ment and ask your­self if you ei­ther know some­one, or some­one you know, knows some­one who lost their life to sui­cide. If that an­swer is “yes,” this epi­demic has im­pacted you per­son­ally in some way.

Why did I in­tro­duce the NFL in an ed­i­to­rial about Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Month? The rea­son is be­cause th­ese two things un­for­tu­nately in­ter­twined last week. It hap­pened on Sept. 10, dur­ing a live broad­cast of “Undis­puted,” a roundta­blestyle sports talk show star­ring form Bal­ti­more Ravens Hall of Fame tight end Shan­non Sharpe and sports per­son­al­ity Skip Bayless.

Dal­las Cow­boys start­ing quar­ter­back Dak Prescott took a coura­geous step, one he didn’t need to take, by shar­ing de­tails of his strug­gle with de­pres­sion ear­lier this year. Prescott’s brother died this past April. The cause of death wasn’t re­vealed un­til last week when Prescott said in an in­ter­view that his brother took his own life.

Prescott re­vealed some­thing dur­ing that in­ter­view we of­ten don’t see from pro­fes­sional ath­letes – his hu­man side. I have a brother. I can­not imag­ine the pain of los­ing him. What Prescott has gone through while ac­cept­ing his brother’s loss is unimag­in­able.

“Tears and tears and tears” was his ini­tial re­ac­tion, he said to Gra­ham Bensinger dur­ing a tap­ing of In Depth. In ad­di­tion, he said he felt a lot of emo­tions dur­ing quar­an­tine that he hadn’t felt be­fore, with anx­i­ety be­ing the main emo­tion. You will rarely see a su­per­star ath­lete open like this to the pub­lic, and the events that en­sued are, in my opin­ion, the rea­son why they don’t.

The fol­low­ing day, Sept. 10, was like Christ­mas morn­ing for foot­ball fans. One game was sched­uled for that day, a Kansas City Chiefs win over the Hous­ton Tex­ans, and the en­tire day was filled with news, opin­ion, anal­y­sis, pre­dic­tions, etc. Amidst this pan­demic, civil un­rest and the cur­rent state of our econ­omy, foot­ball fans got to tune out all of that while en­joy­ing their happy dis­trac­tions once again.

Then, Undis­puted aired, and one of the top­ics was about Prescott’s In Depth in­ter­view. Dur­ing the episode, Bayless crit­i­cized Prescott for open­ing up, say­ing that what Prescott did was a sign of weak­ness. Prescott is the leader of “Amer­ica’s Team,” Bayless said, there­fore he shouldn’t re­veal his weak­nesses.

“I have deep com­pas­sion for clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, but when it comes to the quar­ter­back of an NFL team…it’s the ul­ti­mate lead­er­ship po­si­tion in sports,” Bayless said dur­ing the show. “Be­cause of all that, I don’t have sym­pa­thy for him go­ing pub­lic with ‘I got de­pressed.’”

Ex­cuse me? Does Prescott re­veal­ing his own per­sonal strug­gles some­how make him less of a leader? Does ad­mit­ting the ob­vi­ous fact that he is a hu­man be­ing with feel­ings and emo­tions some­how di­min­ish his re­la­tion­ship with his team­mates? Bayless dou­bled down on his com­ments the fol­low­ing day, say­ing he only ad­dressed Prescott’s de­pres­sion that stemmed from quar­an­tine.

Mr. Bayless, the source of Prescott’s de­pres­sion means noth­ing to you. Fur­ther­more, you do not speak for any­one but your­self. What Prescott did was a bold move, con­sid­er­ing the kind of treat­ment ath­letes re­ceive for al­most any­thing th­ese days. Ev­ery word and ev­ery ac­tion are held un­der a mi­cro­scope.

I shouldn’t ded­i­cate a sin­gle page of this news­pa­per to some­one so ig­no­rant and neg­a­tive, but he made th­ese com­ments on World Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day. Of all days to make an in­sen­si­tive com­ment about an­other per­son’s men­tal health, Bayless chose that day.

Let’s go over some facts about sui­cide. It is a pub­lic health con­cern, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute, re­spon­si­ble for 48,000 deaths in 2018. It was the 10th lead­ing cause of death that year. It was the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death of in­di­vid­u­als be­tween the ages 10-34, and the fourth lead­ing cause of death for ages 35-54. Over a 20-year pe­riod, from 1999-2018, sui­cides in­creased 35 per­cent, from 10.5 per 100,000 to 14.2 per 100,000.

The Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Health de­fines hold­ing a neg­a­tive view of some­one just be­cause they have a men­tal ill­ness as a stigma. It also de­fines a stigma as a feel­ing of shame or judge­ment from some­one else, or an in­ter­nal feel­ing of con­fus­ing feel­ing bad with be­ing bad. Stigma cre­ates sev­eral chal­lenges for those liv­ing with a men­tal health con­di­tion, cre­at­ing in them a sense of iso­la­tion, blame and se­crecy.

Skip Bayless is well known in the sports me­dia in­dus­try. Undis­puted brings in mil­lions of view­ers each week. When he says some­thing, peo­ple will hear it. When it per­tains to neg­a­tive com­ments about the men­tal health of a su­per­star ath­lete for one of the world’s most prof­itable fran­chises, ev­ery­one is go­ing to hear it.

One per­son who did hear those words was Cleve­land Cava­liers power for­ward Kevin Love, who has had his own men­tal health strug­gles. Love tweeted his re­ac­tion to Bayless that same day, Sept. 10, say­ing that what Prescott did “will lead to young men and women of ev­ery de­mo­graphic to feel less alone and ex­press them­selves openly.”

“Men­tal health is­sues rob us of achiev­ing our full po­ten­tial,” Love said in his tweet. As some­one who per­son­ally strug­gles with anx­i­ety, that sen­tence re­ally hits home.

Love wasn’t the only per­son to stick up for Prescott. His team­mates, other NFL play­ers, ath­letes from other leagues, me­dia per­son­al­i­ties and foot­ball fans all came to his de­fense. It was a much wel­comed sight af­ter the coun­try wit­nessed a tele­vi­sion seg­ment dom­i­nated by ig­no­rance.

De­pres­sion and anx­i­ety are both se­ri­ous is­sues. The sta­tis­tics are in­cluded in this ed­i­to­rial. This year is noth­ing like most years. Peo­ple have lost their jobs, and in some cases have lost their liveli­hoods. This is a dif­fi­cult time for a lot of peo­ple in our coun­try right now.

If you are strug­gling with a men­tal ill­ness, please know that you are not alone. Re­sources are avail­able for ev­ery­one. With things the way they are now, we all should be check­ing in on our friends and loved ones. Fac­ing this tough prob­lem with­out sup­port is a los­ing bat­tle.

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