Since joining the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Brian Dawkins has worked hard to break the stigma surrounding mental health.
The NFL and many players are doing their part to address this problem.
Dawkins, a nine-time Pro Bowl safety team and four-time All-Pro during 16 seasons with the Eagles and Broncos, has been on a mission to spread awareness about what he calls brain wellness since he revealed a few years ago that he struggled with depression and had suicidal thoughts early in his football career. .
“There are still a lot of negative connotations associated with mental health,” Dawkins said recently on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “The truth, when I say mental health, the thing that usually comes to everyone’s mind and comes to mind is self-harm, depression and anxiety. No, these are mental illnesses. We all have mental health. So, separate the two but that’s not what society has done. Society says that Any time you mention mental health is a negative. Mental health is actually a positive thing. I have, if you’re alive, you have too. If you think, if you’re conscious, you have mental health and that’s a good thing. You should celebrate that, and when you look To things from a different perspective, that can help you.”
Dawkins says that maintaining brain health requires daily work, mentally, spiritually, and physically. He details how he trains his mind in his book, Bless Him Best: My Journey to Canton and Beyond.
“We all need someone to talk to,” he said. “That’s what I understand now that it’s good to have people in your life that you have to designate that you can call or text them at any time, and I know they’ll pray with me, and then they won’t judge me.”
The NFL and Players Association are committed to helping build a positive culture around mental health. The league and the NFLPA agreed in May 2019 to increase the mental health resources available to players and club staff. The agreement states that each team must appoint a physician focused on supporting the emotional health and well-being of players.
It required team physicians to be on site at the team facility for at least 8 to 12 hours per week. They must maintain confidentiality in all mental health treatment records, and develop an emergency mental health action plan for the team, among other responsibilities.
At the time, 30 teams already had a psychiatrist on staff. Now, many teams have a full-time job, according to Dr. Nyaka Nelampte, vice president of medical and wellness services for the NFL.
“We are moving from a crisis management approach to a more proactive approach,” said Ni Lamptey. “Doctors are on the ground. They are able to deal with anything that happens in real time. … We are seeing a much smoother integration of mental health, and we really understand that if we prioritize our mental health, it will contribute to better performance both on and off the field.”
Nelampti also emphasized the difference between mental health and mental illness.
“We are doing a better job by providing education,” she said. Historically, people have equated mental health with mental illness as having the same meaning. So I think part of what’s happening is that we’re seeing more education around this idea of mental health as something universal and this universal thing that we all have. But we need to rank them in order of priority. So what would it be like if we were intentional and making sure our mental health is positive, just like we make sure we get stronger in the gym physically. So I think this helps reduce some of the stigma because this is a practical approach, especially for athletes.”
This season, players have stepped up to put their mental health first. Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley left the team in November to deal with mental health issues. Philadelphia Eagles let go of Lynne Johnson’s three-game absence and open up about his struggles with the anxiety he’s caused by missing three games.
“I’ve been living in hell for a long time,” Johnson said. “Don’t pack it up. It is easy to do. It’s easy to avoid situations that you don’t want to go through, some of which will be difficult.”
Players across the league expressed their support for Ridley and Johnson. Gone are the old school absorption mentality. More men are reaching out for help for various reasons.
“The NFL is a microcosm of the community and what we’ve seen, especially with the pandemic, is a greater desire to use mental health resources,” Nelamptey said.
Although a lot of resources are available, past and present players need to take the first step.
According to his autopsy, former NFL player Philip Adams, accused of shooting six people in Rock Hill, South Carolina, before killing himself in April, had an unusually severe brain disease.
Adams’ family said he “was desperately seeking NFL help but all claims were denied due to his inability to remember things and deal with seemingly simple tasks.” His agent previously told AP Adams he was not involved in the range of physical and mental health programs available to former players through the league and players’ union.
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