Sunday, February 06, 2011

A river of depression runs through it

During today's Super Bowl, I'm going to think a bit about depression. I know how debilitating depression can be. But rarely do I give any thought to professional athletes struggling with the very same malady. Brendan McLean wrote a fine post for the NAMI blog, "Football: A Mind Game." In it, he tells the tales of two NFL players: Terry Bradshaw and Ricky Williams. The jocular Bradshaw doesn't show it on air, but he experienced bouts of depression throughout his career. He treated it himself with alcohol. As we know from novelist William Styron ("Darkness Visible") and TV news commentator Mike Wallace, there comes a time when alcohol no longer works and you have to face the beast. Here's how Wallace described it:
At first I couldn't sleep, then I couldn't eat. I felt hopeless and I just couldn't cope and then I just lost all perspective on things. You know, you become crazy. I had done a story for 60 Minutes on depression but I had no idea that I was now experiencing it. Finally, I collapsed and just went to bed.
Brendan quotes these stats: men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide and half as likely to seek help. So, when the breakdown comes, it can have a Hemingway end or something better. Bradshaw found help in therapy and antidepressants. The taciturn Ricky Williams smoked pot and got busted out of the NFL. He finally found some relief in yoga and meditation. The Denver Broncos' Kenny McKinley committed suicide before the 2010 season.

So, spend a few minutes thinking about the mental health of the athletes out on the field. Forget about pity. Empathy is what's called for. Just think, "It can happen to anybody..."  

Read Brendan's column at

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