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This Former NFL Quarterback is Tackling Mental Health Off the Field

You may think jumping out of a car traveling 75 miles-per-hour would be a good reason for someone to seek mental health help. It wasn’t for Eric Hipple, former Detroit Lions quarterback. Prior to that uncompleted suicide attempt, his mental health hadn’t ever crossed his mind. Now, 20 years later, he’s working to break the stigma that keeps men from getting the treatment they need (“Ex-Lions QB helps men tackle mental health stigma,” The Detroit News, Jan. 1, 2018).

Following his release from the Lions in 1989, Hipple felt increasingly blue. He ultimately got divorced, remarried and started a business, but soon faced an existential crisis. He lost all motivation. That’s when he flung open the door of his car and jumped. Still, he refused to see a psychiatrist. He didn’t want to appear weak.

“Ain’t no freakin’ way, I’m fine, this is over now, I’m good to go,” Hipple reported to be thinking at the time. “It’s part of the man thing, but it’s also part of the stigma of mental health.”

Only after his 15-year-old son, Jeff, completed suicide did Hipple decide taking his own life was no longer an option. Instead, he coped with alcohol and risk-taking behaviors, eventually landing himself in jail for a short stint. It was from that time that he realized he would rather pour his energy into something positive.

Hipple started seeing a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan Depression Center and dove into learning all that he could about mental health and suicide prevention. For nearly two decades now, he’s been a mental health advocate and played a large role in shaping male-oriented messages for Healthy Men Michigan, a research project focused on breaking thought patterns that keep men from seeking mental health services. The star resource of the project is a three-minute mental health screening available to anyone who visits the website.

“This [online approach] is a real potential for getting health information out to men who aren’t connected at all to traditional health and mental health resources,” said Jodi Frey, principal investigator for the Healthy Men Michigan project and associate professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Social Work. “We’re finding that men through all of their years are coming to the site.”

Despite men being more than four times as likely to die by suicide than women in the U.S., they are less likely to seek help for their depression, substance use and stressful life events. These conditions also often go undiagnosed from the get-go because of a reluctance to talk, a downplay of symptoms and social and gender norms.

With the right knowledge and training, you can #BeTheDifference in the life of someone contemplating suicide. Knowing how to notice the signs of depression and other common mental health challenges – and how to start a conversation about them – can help more men get the support they may need. Let’s create a space for men to feel comfortable expressing themselves. Take a Mental Health First Aid course today.