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Thursday, September 11th, 2008 at 12:47 pm  |  42 responses

The Not Great At All Depression

Not Acknowledging Mental Illness Won’t Make It Go Away

I know it’s not realistic to expect people to treat mental illness with the same regard that they treat physical illness but its still shocking to hear the negativity spewing from people mouths in regards to Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young. To recap–after Sunday’s game against Jacksonville, (a game in which Young struggled mightily, was booed and injured) he was scheduled to have a MRI on Monday. He balked at getting one, prompting head coach Jeff Fisher to make an house call (bringing with him a psychologist who later expressed concern to the Titans organization about his well-being). Young then left his home without his cell phone, creating a situation in which the team contacted the local police as a precaution.

Young’s mom made a statement the following day in which she also expressed concern about his state of mind. This on the heels from reports during the summer saying Young was contemplating retirement. While nothing definitive has been stated by the team concerning Young’s future, reaction by fans and the media has been largely negative. In the few days since this story broke all I’ve heard are talks about his career being over and that this sort of behavior is unacceptable in pro football. I’m not here to pass judgment, well, I take that back. I will judge those who make blanket ignorant statements, advising them to educate themselves on the struggles of mental illness before commenting on what someone else can or cannot do. It seems that, generally, people view mental health problems differently from say a broken leg or a sore back. People will not acknowledge nor respect mental anguish of any kind. Especially from men and even less from pro athletes who we assume have perfect lives and are unworthy of our pity or concern (it’s more widespread than you may think–Ricky Williams, Eddie Griffin, Chamique Holdsclaw and Terry Bradshaw are just some of the names of current or former pro athletes who have been diagnosed with depression). Hopefully this can serve as the initial starting point but expect more stories like this from me in the near future.

For more insight I reached out to author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams, who recently met with Eagles offensive lineman Shawn Andrews (who because of his recent bout with depression was late to training camp and initially was greeted with un-open arms by teammates) who offered these words via an excerpt from her latest book Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting: Real Talk For When There’s No Place To Go But Up (Scribner, 2008)

A depressed Black man doesn’t necessarily
look like he’s “down in the
dumps,” “cryin’ the blues,” or any of the other
cliches we use to describe what depression looks
like. A depressed Black man might be the most
energetic man you know, a ball of fire who never
stops moving or doing, whether or not the moving
gets him anywhere or the doing does anything. A
depressed Black man might be accomplished in all
kinds of socially acceptable areas (career, church,
sports, school), or he might be the kind of man
who can’t stop making everything worse for himself and anyone who
loves him. What most depressed men have in common, and depressed
Black men in particular, is that they will do anything not to wind up
sitting with unbearable feelings. That’s why it’s so often underlying
depression: that unexplored and not talked about pain that underlies
the destructive and self-destructive actions in the lives of way too
many of our brothers.

How many? Well, according to statistics, only 9 percent of men
have suffered or will ever suffer from depression—but statistics are
only just so accurate. They never tell more than a small part of the
story. In Terrence Real’s powerful book on men and depression, I
Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of
Male Depression, he argues, as I do, that men are suffering from
depression at rates far higher than statistics show. When I look at our
community and I see our brothers dying every day from violence or
heart attacks or drugs or disease, or wasting the best years of their
lives in prison, I know these men are not well in their souls. These men
are not making suicidal choices because they’ve sat down and calmly
reasoned it out; nobody has ever said, “I could go to school, have a
career, make a decent living, marry a woman I love, and build a home
and a family with her, but I’ve thought about it a lot and I know I’ll be
happier if I drop out, do drugs, sell drugs, gangbang, make babies I
can’t support, spend half my life in prison, or just get killed.” But when
society (in the form of poor housing, non-real health care, unchecked
crime, education barely worthy of the name, and welfare programs
that are hard to get off) doesn’t support those choices for those
unlucky enough to be born into its urban poor—when it often works
directly against the things we might think of as wise and humane
choices—it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many choose against their
own best interests, against themselves, so many times a day, every
day of the week. The truth is that these men are deeply depressed,
so deeply they can’t even name it. And the horror is that it’s so
secret they can’t even tell themselves.

So much of my drive to write this book comes from the belief,
grounded in faith, that if I am not well, you are not well, and if you are
not well, I am not well. Our brothers are not well, and something has
to be done. We must help them name their pain so that they stop visiting denial, abuse, and destructiveness on themselves and those around
them.”

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  • riggs

    awesome read. thanks khalid

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks Khalid.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    I did a story on Vince when he was in college and he was a great interview. I also absolutely loved the way he played the game and I thought he was a surefire NFL superstar in the making. However, the NFL has presented new challenges for him and it’s not like dude had the easiest upbringing, so perhaps these issues were always there but easier to suppress when everything was going smoothly at Texas. Either way I wish Vince the best and I appreciate the reminder Khalid’s post provides.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    thanks ben

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Thanks for this Khalid. I do hope that Vince gets the help it appears he desperately needs and if happiness requires him to quit football, then he should take the route and be happy.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Thank you for this, Khalid.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Cub Buenning

    Not to be repetitive, but a ‘thanks, khalid’ is deserved, nonetheless.

    NFL QB is quite possibly the toughest job in not just sports, but all of the america. By tough, i mean the most physically challenging and pressure-laden. I know the $ should offset the inherent troubles with the job, but doing that job is only for a select few. In reality, there have only been a few truly “great” people at this job, ever.
    Best of luck to VY.

  • B. Long

    It’s sad because being a native Texans and a diehard Longhorns fan, when I think of Vince Young all that comes to mind is his super human Rose Bowl performance and mythilogical standing as Superman in Texas football fans minds. You picture the confetti and the trophy but you forget this is just a brief moment in Vince’s life and he is a real person with real problems and feelings just like the rest of us. Great job, Khalid.

  • B. Long

    or Texan. sorry.

  • John E. Sanford

    Very profound read Khalid. I’m gonna send a link to all of my fam.

  • thesubwayconnection

    As someone who’s struggled with depression, I owe you a thanks, Khalid. The book’s excerpt is on point. It’s not easy to talk about, and it’s not always easily recognizable. Depression is like an undertow in the ocean, it lurks and doesn’t strike until you get low enough to touch it; once you’re there, it doesn’t easily let go. It has to be fought. My prayers go out to Vince and his family. I can only hope he comes out on top like that Rose Bowl.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    subwayconnection, i wish you the best.

  • thesubwayconnection

    It comes and goes, but I’ve got a support system in place now, and have for a few years. I can only hope Vince does, too. It’s not something to tackle by oneself.

  • Young Chris MP3

    This is why Khalid is that dude… And Everybody go out and listen to Joe Budden’s Mood Muzik series… Dude’s the posterboy for these topics.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Holly MacKenzie

    you’ve got me with this one, Kha. thank you. thank you. thank you. I don’t even have the proper words to express what I’m thinking right now, but I am very thankful.

  • Vince Young

    now im really depressed

  • Diesel

    Depressed? I know I’m going to get attacked for this, but what happened to the old days where men held stuff in? Depression wasn’t a life long disease, it was a state of mind for a few days that you dealt with. Kids that didn’t pay attention in class got spanked, now they have ADD and take medication. And some kids were just plain old crazy. Why does everything need to be an identifiable ailment now? What happens when a person in the real world is depressed? If I called in sick to work because I was depressed I’d get fired and be homeless. Life is tough for everyone. If you don’t keep fighting and moving on the whole world would/could be depressed. Sounds like the easy/weak way out to me. Again that’s just my opinion. I’m not trying to mock anyone.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    Diesel, i understand totally what you are talking about. I’m all about brushing my shoulders off and keeping things moving but what about those who cannot. There’s a difference between being depressed and having depression. Its unfair just to lump everyone into the same category.

  • Diesel

    I think though the reason some fans are looking at his story negatively is because of what I said above: if an every day person tried to tell their work that they’re suffering from depression and needed time off, they’d lose their jobs. I think people with regular jobs, even if they truly do suffer from depression, need to keep moving on and dealing with it somehow otherwise they lose everything they have in life. Not just depression, any mental or physical illness…the everyday joe doesn’t have the luxury of retiring at 23 or taking a mental health day.

  • Diesel

    But it was a good story Khalid and at least you got a good conversation going on the topic.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Cheryl

    I’m so glad you broached this subject, Khalid. I too tried to bring up the issue of bipolar disorder when discussing Ron Artest. I don’t know if he is suffering from it, but I dont think we should just chalk that kind of stuff up to “dude’s crazy”. We really do need to explore how we as a society deals with mental illness. It shouldn’t be stigmatized the way it is. If we could get past that, perhaps folks, including Vince, TO, and even Artest could, without shame, seek medical advice and care for their symptoms. Thanks in advance, for future essays on this topic.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Diesel: Not speaking for everyone’s job, but my job actually has counselours and special care just for certain cases such as depression. In reality, all jobs with any kind of benefits package do or should have these in there now. Some big corporations actaully require their employees to have regular checkups or counseling to look for early signs of this.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Well said Cheryl.

  • Diesel

    I know what you’re saying TAD. But even if companies are starting to be somewhat helpful, the reality at my job is different. Example: Me and you are both trying to get a managerial position. We’re both good workers, only difference is you have a history of depression (that the company helped you cope with). Whether its right or wrong, employers are going to take that into consideration when hiring/promoting employees. They won’t give it as the reason, but they don’t want to take a risk on a person with a history of depression that could snap under the pressure. So even though they may help you cope with it, its almost certain to affect your employment negatively.

  • James aka the Artist Formerly Known as Krayzie Bone

    i’ll speak from personal experience because I deal with one of these (hypo-manic-depressive). I can’t imagine a worse profession to be in than professional sports when you have a recurring tendancy to self destruct in a way that would boggle the minds of non sufferers. And talent in a particular field has no effect; in fact it only offers you something to fixate on, as in why with this gift can I not get it done? On the football field, this would lead to a running narrative in your head that in itself is destracting, never mind the fact that the narrative is oscilating between over and under confidence. Someone like MJ, who was a mental giant would only have a greek chorus in his head, saying you got this. Vince obviously has the nation of millions bringing him down in his dome.

    If you want to see someone who had it in the other direction, Rodman looks like pure mania to me: constantly getting into situations off the court, hyper engergetic, but at least for him there was no self doubt and depression.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Good point Diesel. I think the thing that you are overlooking with Vince is despite the money and everything that comes with it, you have to remember how hard it would be for someone who is constantly in the spotlight to be able to cope with such a serious issue. Someone like you or me may not have the financial flexibility, but we also wouldn’t know what it would be like to cope with something like this and a million people know about it. It is easy for us as fans to say “just deal with it”, but even the most even-keeled person may not be able to cope with 60,000 people watching you work every Sunday.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Diesel, if Vince had a history of depression he wouldn’t have gotten drafted third. Most likely, any problems he had were unknown by the media…Now to your initial point about “regular” people having to suck things up and therefore having difficulty feeling sorry for Vince. Regular people don’t just “suck things up.” They self medicate through drugs and alcohol, they beat their wives and children, they engage in all manner of self-destructive behavior. Regular people may be in more danger of losing their jobs, but I’m wondering how much protection Vince Young really has in the NFL. From what I’ve seen, the NFL is not big on keeping people around who can’t produce, so Vince could be on his way out of the door soon. Finally, when did we as a society decide that if you have money that you earned legally, you have lost the right to complain and no longer deserve sympathy from anyone else? There is a shocking lack of empathy in this world. Far too many people lack the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and see the world from a different perspective. Yes, Vince Young is rich and famous. That doens’t make him superhuman, or immune to bad things. Just like Sean Taylor was a massive man, but couldn’t avoid bullets that rained down on him in his home. Athletes are regular people with extraordinary abilities in a particular field. That’s all. I think the sporting public really needs to come to grips with this.

  • David

    In all seriousness (not just partial seriousness), Isiah Thomas was exhibiting signs of depression all of last year but nobody wants to give him any sympathy because he made his organisation look bad. I hope he’s getting some help.

  • tealish

    Diesel’s point is fair and the ADD example, bang-on. Sometimes “sucking it up” really is the best solution for some, but as Khalid said — you can’t risk lumping even one person with real depression, into the group that merely “took the easy way out”. The consequences are just too severe.

  • knowsense.

    i applaud your understanding khalid.
    i know that to those who are unaffected by depression have a very difficult time understanding those that suffer from it.
    i suffer through severe depression personally.
    as a varsity basketball player. and athlete period. it is socially unacceptable to have any sort of mental problems. it is as outcasted as homosexuality in the locker room. the response we are supposed to have is to “suck it up and rub some dirt on it”. this ignorant attitude only fuels the problem. as athletes, especially professional athletes, we are expected to be role models in every possible way. we are shown to be rich and famous. as if this was some sort of cure-all for any disorder. we have to realize that athletes are humans first, and athletes second.

  • Sko

    Allenp, that’s the real right there. Diesel, I feel you, and because I feel you, I battled with naming my own condition for almost a decade because I, like my father, felt that depression was a luxury, a somehow privileged condition. That my ancestors had overcome so much that I had to be able to just get over whatever, and get on with my life. But that didn’t work for me. Some of the steps were spiritual, some were just talking to people. Thankfully I’m still here

  • The Plastic Man

    Great article Kha. I suffer from depression. I am working my way through it with the help of others. It is comforting to know that many of my brothers and sisters in the Slam community are mature and understanding enough to appreciate what people with mental illness go through.
    Thank you Khalid.
    Vince Young – I wish you all the best and I hope you can find happiness.

  • http://www.worldhoopsblog.com Paul

    @ Diesel. There’s being sad, and then there’s depression. Depression can be a chemical imbalance. And none of us work under the microscope that VY does. I work in a warehouse. If I’m not feeling my perky ass self, I sit in my office and dodge people all day. Where does Vince go on the field when he jsut wants to be by himself and not deal with people?

    And we (usually) have sick days, personal days, vacation days. We get FMA leave, and if a doctor perscribes it, we get short/long term disability.

    We have options other than sucking it up and dealing with it.

    For a long time I’ve been a “man up” kind of dude. But I’ve run through a real tough time lately. Little bit more than I can handle. And a real man knows when he’s a little out of his depth, and goes to get help.

    Hopefully Vince gets his head right and has a lot more football in him. If not, hopefully he just gets his head right.

  • B. Long

    Turns out Young was just bummed about the injury and his Mom was just being over dramatic like moms tend to be sometimes. Great news. Keep your head up, Vince.

  • andrew

    Khalid, not that I didn’t already have great respect for your work, but this has tipped me over the edge from being respectful to downright glad that you write stuff. I am perhaps the worst person in the world to ever complain about being depressed – upper middle class family, solid upbringing, never wanted for anything all my life, yet, for some reason, I’ve had to see counsellors and taken sick days for two weeks at a time to try and find some escape from it. Depression is a very real, very hard thing to deal with. And it happens to so many people. The trouble is, a percentage of these people are men, and men don’t get sad. Or if they do, they drink it away and start fights and mask it until they alienate everybody that cares about them (not saying I’m a bar brawler or anything, just an example). It’s a tough, tough thing to go through. I’m lucky enough to have super people about me that have helped me through it. I can’t imagine what it would be like surrounded by yes men and morons that have no grasp on what it’s like to be under the weight that depression heaves on your back. I don’t even know who Vince Young is, but I hope he gets a little better.

  • Froggiestyle

    There is only one thing in the world that I cannot tolerate and that’s intolerance.

  • andrew

    Oh, and Diesel – my best friend lost her job yesterday due to medically diagnosed chemical depression. She’s a lawyer, and she’s suing.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Great comments by everyone. Thankyou for your input, even though I dont watch American Football, I can appreciate what Young may have been going through. Hopefully B.Long is correct in his last comment.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    I know that Khalid can get as frustrated by the occasional horrendous comments on this website as anyone, but I’m very impressed with this thread of reasoned comments. Most credit goes to Khalid for writing the piece in the first place, but thanks to all you commenters above to for keeping the discourse honest and intelligent.

  • fluxland

    @Khalid – RESPECT, SIR!
    @AllenP – “Far too many people lack the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and see the world from a different perspective.” TRUTH.
    @Ben – I know I fail at that and fall into the horrendous category, but I second that.
    ===
    This also reminds me of a racism discussion that went on here, a few years back I believe, the SLAM staff blew me away that day. You people are deep and ridiculously intelligent.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Flux- what Alllenp is saying is called empathy. Truth.

  • Houston

    Wow, great read. I am always interested in the connection between mental illness and sports. Like many above me, I know what it is like to suffer from depresson, and it’s not what people think. Depression is not sadness and it’s definatly not easily controllable. For some reason people are scared of mental illness but what they don’t understand is that the victim is just as scared. It’s extremely tough, the last thing you need is a bunch of rednecks telling you to just be a man. Like most people, they just don’t get it. I hope Vince doesn’t retire. If he feels like he needs help he should get it and try to work through this tough time.

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