By Ken Reed
We have a mental health crisis in this country and it’s crying out for more attention.
Lives are lost to suicide. Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness negatively affect entire families, not just the individual suffering. The nation’s productivity is impacted to a significant degree due to mental health issues.
And yet there’s still a public stigma associated with mental illness.
Approximately 46 million people are living with mental illness in the United States today. On college campuses, 33% of all college students suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions to varying degrees. Among youth in the United States, 9.7% have severe depression (up from 9.2% in last year’s study). The percentage of adults in the U.S. experiencing serious thoughts of suicide increased by 460,000 from last year.
One area, in particular, that needs more attention when it comes to mental health is sports. Among professional athletes, up to 35% suffer from a mental health issue, which may manifest as depression, anxiety, an eating disorder or burnout. Rarely due they seek help. Of college athletes with mental health conditions, only 10% seek help (vs. 30% of college students as a whole who seek help).
I’ve shared these statistics to set the stage for an incredible sports story. Drew Robinson, a veteran Major Leaguer who lost his right eye in a suicide attempt last year, not only survived that attempt but is on the precipice of returning to the Major Leagues. It was announced this past week that Robinson had made the opening day roster for the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A team in Sacramento.
Before his suicide attempt, Robinson was like a lot of athletes. He thought that because he was an athlete, he had to be tough – physically and mentally – and not show any weakness. Sharing any doubts or fears with another human being was out of the question in his mind. He was a master at keeping things to himself. To his friends and family, he was the fun, wise-cracking, good-natured life of the party.
They were shocked when they found out that on April 16, 2020, Robinson tried to kill himself by shooting a bullet into his right temple. Somehow, he didn’t die. While bleeding and with his right eye shut, he groggily looked around and thought What happened? Why am I still here? He spent the next 20 hours trying to decide whether to attempt to kill himself again or dial 911 for help. After a spark of inspiration, he chose to live and dialed for help.
When talking to his brother Chad on the phone while in the hospital after the suicide attempt, Drew kept repeating, “I’m meant to be alive, Chad. I’m meant to be alive. I’m meant to be alive.”
Robinson endured four surgeries to repair the damage the bullet had caused, including one to remove what was left of his right eye. Drew was determined that his “after “was going to be better than his” before.” He suddenly felt driven by love, not hate. His new purpose was to help people avoid the pit of despair that he had fallen into.
Drew’s primary message today is, if you’re hurting talk to someone. Anyone. It doesn’t have to be a family member, a friend, or even a therapist. But find someone you can be open with. Drew discovered people want to help, and are actually drawn to vulnerability, not repelled by it.
Robinson is now convinced that vulnerability is a strength.
“So many people in this world are willing to help anyone going through these things,” says Robinson.
“You’re never alone. I never will hold back from asking or telling someone, even if it’s something simple. ‘Hey, this little thing’s annoying me today.’ Just tell them. They want to hear it.”
One day, during his recovery, Robinson decided he wanted to play baseball again. He started working out like a fiend. Weights, cardio, batting practice. Robinson’s a left-handed hitter and despite missing his lead eye, he discovered that he still had depth perception and could pick up breaking balls.
The Giants offered him a minor league spring training spot. No guarantees. No promises. After a good camp, he was told that he’d made Sacramento’s roster.
Robinson’s not out of the woods yet. He still has some down days. But he’s discovered that being vulnerable and talking to people about it will prevent him from going to a dark place. He regularly sees a therapist. He’s on an antidepressant, meditates and writes in a journal on a daily basis. And he’s sharing his story as widely as he can.
“I’m stronger than what I thought I was,” says Robinson. And he wants people to know that they too can be stronger than they thought if they will just take the first step and reach out for help.
It’s a message that needs to be shared over and over again, especially in SportsWorld, where stigma is cited as the main reason athletes with mental health issues don’t seek the help they need.
That’s a stigma that needs to be completely erased.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered and got to know well, like Muhammad Ali, as well as his relationships with fellow sports journalists like Bob Costas and Howard Cosell.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #16 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Andrew Maraniss: Outstanding Author of Books That Focus On the Intersection of Sports, History and Social Justice.
Episode #15 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Psychology with Dr. Tim Rice. We discuss the growth of sports psychology at all levels, the positive impact that a number of high profile athletes have had by opening up, and the importance of everyone involved in sports caring for the whole athlete, mind and body.
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – Gary McCoy is a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations.
Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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