Changing the Mental Health Narrative

When someone reaches out for help, this exemplifies resilience and strength.

Posted Sep 21, 2020

Photo by Melanie Conway-Hower
Source: Photo by Melanie Conway-Hower

As a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan and a self-proclaimed legend of Fantasy Football, I can often be seen looking at any informational website about football news, inside information, and anything else related to the sport. When I see news reports surfacing about any Dallas Cowboy player, my initial thoughts are not positive. When Dak Prescott, the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, recently spoke up about his struggles with depression, anxiety, the impact of the social isolation due to Covid-19, and the recent death of his brother to suicide, my immediate thoughts were how strong, resilient, and empowered he is.

He spoke openly about his struggles with anxiety and depression and used his spotlight to help others that may be struggling. As amazing as I thought he was for speaking publicly about his struggles and his brother’s mental health concerns, not everyone responded in a compassionate, understanding manner. On a national show, one television sports personality stated that he thought Dak Prescott struggling with mental health during the pandemic was a weakness. He even went on to say that it could hinder the team’s ability to believe in him in the most challenging points of a game.

Let’s look deeper into the statistics regarding the impact of mental health concerns and suicide in the United States. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that in 2018, 47.6 million people (19 percent) experienced mental illness, and 43.3 percent received mental health treatment. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the United States. These numbers have tripled in the past decade. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention report that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and on average, there are 132 suicides per day.

How do we help people diagnosed with mental health concerns to seek and stay in treatment? How do we help those individuals who feel that suicide is their only answer? I think it is great when someone is vocal about struggling with a mental health concern, have had suicidal thoughts, go to a therapist, or are in treatment or recovery. It shows that they are resilient, empowered, and strong. Reaching out for help, believing it’s okay not to be okay, and seeing a therapist shows great strength. Many people have stated how strong Dak Prescott was by talking about his struggles with anxiety, depression, and the loss of his brother. He was able to help many individuals who may have felt shame by feeling the same way during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Many other high-profile athletes have been vocal about their struggles with mental health, and the help and support therapy and treatment have given them both personally and professionally. Other athletes who have advocated for mental health treatment are Brandon Brooks, Simone Biles, Brandon Marshall, Michael Phelps, and Kevin Love, to name a few. I commend these individuals in the public spotlight for speaking about their mental health concerns and the importance of seeking treatment.

As a professor at Holy Family University, I have numerous outside presenters and speakers who come to my class. One consistent presenter in my classes is Patti Dille. Patti Dille’s son, Matthew, died by suicide in 2014. He was 17 years old. She has since focused her work on helping those impacted by suicide and increasing awareness with her suicide prevention presentations. Patti is also an ambassador for the Peyton Heart Project. The Peyton Heart Project focuses on suicide awareness and prevention. In her presentations, Patti discusses how to start a conversation regarding mental health. Create a safe environment, and ensure your loved ones know that speaking about mental health will be well-received. These points can also help you get started:

  • Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. If you notice some warning signs, clues, changes in mood and behavior, and loss of interest, talk with them.
  • Ask your family members, friend, or loved one, what’s going on? Be curious about their situation and behaviors. Ask questions, let them know you care and are interested.
  • It may be uncomfortable but let some silence into the conversation if needed.
  • You can also start the discussion with “I notice” statements (I notice that you haven’t been going out much and spending a lot of time in your room. What’s going on?).

Other recommendations if you or a loved one is struggling with mental health concerns include the following:

  • Reach out to support and advocacy groups in your area. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides advocacy, support, education, and public awareness for individuals and families impacted by mental health concerns.
  • Find a therapist, the right-fit therapist for you. Don’t stop until you find one that connects with you. Also, I think everyone (in the world) would benefit from seeing a therapist. In good times, and in bad.
  • When hearing someone speak about their mental health concerns and/or being in treatment/recovery, view them as strong, resilient, and empowered. Change the narrative. Even if the person is a rival (Dallas Cowboys) of your favorite football team, understand that it takes great courage to speak about mental health publicly. The help they are providing others is a big part of breaking stigma in our society.

References

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2020). Suicide statistics. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. http://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2019, September). Mental health by the numbers. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/mhstats

The Peyton Heart Project. (2020). The peyton heart project- your life matters. The Peyton Heart Project. http://www.thepeytonheartproject.org/