I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the Dallas Cowboys lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking the most about Dak Prescott.
This began long before his season ending injury a few weeks back.
Before the start of the NFL season, Dak opened up about his mental health struggles during the pandemic. He told Graham Bensinger in an interview that during lockdown he felt emotions he’d never experienced before.
Anxiety was one of those emotions. And because of that anxiety he developed intense episodes of insomnia. On top of that, he started to feel what he could only describe as depression.
Then, on April 24th, Dak received the gut-wrenching news that his youngest brother, Jace, was found dead from an alleged suicide attempt; Dak confirmed this was the cause of death in his interview with Graham.
Fellow athletes and commentators applauded Dak for opening up about his struggles. But there were some who made public, eye-rolling comments in an attempt to shrug off Dak’s troubles.
”You don’t have it ‘THAT’ bad Mr. Multimillion Dollar Star Athlete.”
Skip Bayless’s comments about Dak’s struggles garnered the most news coverage. Here’s what Skip said:
“If you reveal publicly any little weakness it can affect your team’s ability to believe you in the toughest spot.”
My first reaction to Skip’s comments was utter disbelief. I know many men and women who suffer from depression. Some are highly successful entrepreneurs. Others are physically as strong as an NFL player. Closer to home, I’ve witnessed my mom’s struggles with mental health for more than two decades.
As I thought about Skip’s comments on Dak’s confession, part of me wanted to Tweet out a super pissed-off message to ole Skip.
Yo Skip, open a history book. History’s filled with great men and women who have battled with depression — Lincoln, Georgia O’Keeffe, Winston Churchill, and staying within the NFL, four-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw also battles with it.
How many of those people would you, Skip, applaud for their achievements? Are you going to tell Terry he’s weak for getting help? The dude has 5 Super Bowl rings.
It’s often said that people suffer in silence. And that breaking that silence, destigmatizing the perceived or implied negativity around mental health, is the first step to healing.
Having athletes like Dak speak out about their troubles helps others find the strength to speak up about their own, leading some to possibly seek the help they may need.
But Skip’s comments made me think of another silent group of sufferers: the people who feel like they don’t have it “that” bad.
Isn’t that what Skip is implying?
“Oh you’re a highly paid athlete with loads of money and fame. Your suffering isn’t ‘that’ bad.”
There are likely others who think that, somehow, loads of money and fame create a wall against the slings and arrows of life. We’ve all heard some version of the phrase, “it’s hard to be that sad if you’re waking up in a mansion.”
But what does implying that someone’s suffering isn’t “that bad” say to those who want to open up and talk about their struggles, but aren’t sure they’re bad enough?
- What does that say to someone who feels alone (maybe not all the time but sometimes)?
- What does that say to someone who feels that how or what they feel isn’t a big deal and probably isn’t important anyways?
- What do you say to someone who when contemplating asking for help immediately feels ashamed because they know people “worse off than them?”
Do you have to feel like you’re drowning to reach out for help? Like you can’t do it any sooner because you’d be taking away those resources from someone who might have it worse than you?
I’ve thought about all of this since September because I’m one of those people.
I don’t talk about my struggles with mental health because my struggles have never felt “that bad.” I know men and women who have thought about or attempted suicide. I know people who when the black dog of depression falls upon them can barely get out of bed. I’ve read their stories and witnessed their struggles first hand.
Those struggles are scary, hard, and oftentimes all-encompassing.
As a teenager, when my mom was diagnosed and put on antidepressants, I remember living in fear that I’d get it too — that it was a genetic guarantee and that I would be the next victim for this disease.
I found a way to deal with that dread as a teen. But how I dealt with that fear didn’t click until I was thinking about Dak. Dealing with that fear was easy for me: I’d circumvent how I really felt and do everything I could to ignore those feelings and/or find the more “logical way” to view them.
It was easier to tell myself that, “oh, it’s not ‘that’ bad; others have it worse than you; you’re fine, ignore it or just listen to some more whiny emo bands as loud as possible so you can drown out those thoughts, that again, aren’t ‘that’ bad.”
Even now as I type this I keep going back to Instagram because I feel like a schmuck writing about this. I feel like I shouldn’t be writing about this. And that voice comes back again, whispering:
“You know people who’ve tried to kill themselves. You know people who have REAL depression, who have REAL mental health struggles. You’re just having a bad day. Seriously, you don’t have it ‘that’ bad.”
But how many other men out there think like me? How many other men are there that feel ashamed for even considering reaching out for help because their problems don’t feel “that big”?
How many other men feel guilty that they’re taking away help from people who may need it more?
As I thought about this over the last couple of months, I realized that number is probably pretty high. The stats around the mental health of men are already pretty damn stark.
It’s estimated that globally, on average, one man dies by suicide every hour of every day. Worldwide, that’s nearly 22,000 deaths a year. In the US alone 3 out of 4 suicides are committed by men.
75% of all suicides being men is a pretty shocking statistic. But here’s another for you.
Even after adjusting for age, the suicide rate in the US increased more than 24% between 1999 and 2016 — that’s the highest rate recorded in 30 years. And those increases were so drastic, that for the first time since 1915-1918, life expectancy in the United States decreased for three consecutive years.
According to the CDC, in late June of 2020, 40% of US adults reported dealing with mental health or substance abuse during Covid. And within that same survey, the CDC asked if respondants had seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior to completing the survey.
Those numbers were high. Specifically among those aged 18–24 years (25.5%), minority racial/ethnic groups (Hispanic respondents [18.6%], non-Hispanic Black [15.1%]), self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults (30.7%), and essential workers (21.7%).
The pandemic isn’t over either. The fact is, we will continue to deal with the ramifications from this pandemic for years. The Thanos snap that was Covid and the aftermath it caused isn’t going away overnight. In “Endgame” the world was still trying to piece itself back together five years later. And it’s likely that we’ll see the numbers around suicide and mental health issues continue to rise over the next few years.
So it’s imperative that we not only have athletes like Dak Prescott open up and talk about mental health, but we need more than those in the public eye to speak up and speak out.
We need the voices of everyone who struggles, no matter the level of intensity, to speak up.
Advocating for yourself may be the toughest act any adult ever attempts to do. It’s not something we’re taught in school. It may even be something we feel we can’t do in the safety of our own homes as children.
I never wanted to shut up as a kid. I had questions that needed to be answered. I had thoughts that needed to be expressed. And I remember tons of times being referred to as “motormouth.”
Handcuffed to those memories are countless others where I was encouraged to be quiet, or flat out told that what I thought or felt wasn’t important or a big deal.
And that stuff doesn’t disappear when you become an adult. It sticks around. It will change its shape and morph into something completely different. But those feelings, those demons, will find a way to seep into your everyday life, affecting you in ways you never imagined.
When we’re kids we’re taught a handful of four letter words that we should never say. Words like damn, shit, fuck, cunt, piss, dick, twat, slut, or suck. There’s a ton of stigma attached to those 4-lettered words, and many of us may have had our mouth’s washed out with soap for using them.
But there’s another four letter word that we as a society need to remove the stigma for using: help.
For years I struggled to ask for help. In nearly every class throughout grade school I sat in silence when I didn’t understand things because I was too afraid to ask for help.
Actually, come to think of it, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help so much as I was too afraid to look like I needed help.
Smart kids in advanced math classes don’t need help. No. You sit in silence and you figure it out. You’ve figured it out before, you can do it again. But don’t ask for help. If you do that someone might think you’re dumb. Do you want others thinking you’re dumb? Is that what you want people to think? That you’re dumb?
Even now that fear is returning, telling me that by speaking up about my struggles I’ll somehow redefine who I am and how people see me.
“Is this how you want people to see you?”
We applaud and idolize athletes like Dak Prescott who use their talents to overcome the odds and awe us with their god-given talent. Athletes like Dak become heroes. And humans love a good hero.
Heroes inspire us with their stories of triumph, empowering us to overcome the odds in our own lives. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about Luke Skywalker, Captain America, Bruce Wayne, or the myriad of the other superheroes I’ve idolized since my youth.
It’s from their stories that I pull strength and find inspiration for overcoming obstacles. And when I think about these heroes, I realize there’s something they all have in common: over the years, all of them have asked for (or recruited) help to overcome their darkest foes.
Are athletes like Dak Prescott, Micahel Phelps, Simone Biles, Abby Wambach, or Kevin Love, who many consider heroes, really any different?
These athletes are surrounded by teams of scouts, coaches, and doctors who help them prepare for the next game. Add to that their personal trainers and nutritionists, and you see that no athlete succeeds without help.
Getting help from an expert who has tools available to help you get better or stronger so you can be your best (or live your best life) should never be considered an act of weakness.
Dak, or anyone for that matter, should feel as much shame for consulting a mental health professional as he does hiring a trainer.
In other words: He shouldn’t feel any shame at all.
Here’s something I do know. One of the best ways to encourage people to reach out for help is to reduce the stigma around depression, anxiety, and mental health. And one of the best ways to do that is to talk about it.
Stuffing it inside, telling myself that “my struggles aren’t that bad,” isn’t good for me; but it’s also not good for someone else who may feel the same.
Dak opening up and revealing his struggles could be the catalyst that encourages someone out there to take the steps necessary to stand up and say, “I need help.”
And if I’m going to encourage people to take their mental health seriously, I realized I should probably do the same.
One of the scary things about reaching out for help is the amount of money it can cost. Until last September, I had no health insurance for four years. And there was absolutely no way I could pay out of pocket for help with mental health.
I’m grateful that during those years I’ve had some amazing people to surround myself with who I could talk to when I needed it. Without that community I would’ve felt infinitely more alone and would have struggled in my silence.
While writing this I had a conversation with a friend of mine about these issues. Specifically the issues centering around resources. She told me when she reached out for help that it felt like no therapist could take her on as a client.
Everyone she called wasn’t taking new clients. Hotlines she called kept her on hold for 20-30 minutes or outright told her they couldn’t help.
Reaching your hand up and asking for help but getting no response to those cries only makes those suffering feel more alone and helpless. It only makes that darkness seem more infinite and inescapable.
And as she said that to me, I heard that voice in my mind murmuring again.
“Your darkness Robbie isn’t that dark; you’re just being a whiny emo kid; others have it worse than you. There are those who actually need the help who aren’t getting it, who the hell do you think you are to take away that help from them?”
That feedback loop continues playing no matter how I feel. And though I feel like I’ve gotten better at recognizing and managing that loop, I still get caught up in it.
But I also know that dealing with that loop will be a lifelong battle. You neve truly conquer your demons. As The Ancient One told Mordo in “Dr. Strange:”
“We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them.”
Now that I do have insurance, I’ve started looking for someone that I can talk to about my mental health. But there are still those who feel they can’t get above their demons. Those who cannot afford to speak to a therapist either because they live paycheck-to-paycheck or because they don’t have health insurance. So how do we help those people?
There are two things we can do.
By publishing this today I’m doing what I can to talk about these issues. Dak Prescott used his voice to talk about his struggles a couple of months ago. And there are other high profile athletes, actors, authors, and all manner of humans talking more today about mental health and their struggles with it than ever before.
Speaking up (and out) helps to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. My friend John Romaniello has been doing this for years. His openness about his struggles in his writing has prompted others to reach out to him, thanking him for speaking up and doing what he can to reduce the stigma around depression and mental health.
Besides being “the” reason I even got into fitness and subsequent writing about it, John’s writing (not to mention his friendship and mentoring) about his struggles has helped me feel less alone.
So the first steps we can take to improving mental health is to talk about it. And though it’s taken me a long time to open up about my struggles, here I am writing this today doing just that.
Outside of speaking up about mental health, we need to increase financial support for those who can’t afford or get the resources for mental health that they need.
The pandemic is going to make it much harder for governments to help in this regard.
So when it comes to increasing financial resources to help those in need, it’s going to fall to all of us to take action.
There are a dozen different charities that you can find online that provide resources for mental health. But there’s one that’s super close to my heart. It’s a foundation dedicated to men’s health, and has a goal of reducing worldwide male suicide by 25% by 2030.
In 2005, two friends in Australia, as a joke, decided to grow out moustaches for the month of November. They recruited more than a dozen men to do this with them. That first November was a smashing success.
So they decided to do it again the next year. But this time they decided to use those stellar staches to raise money and bring awareness to men’s health issues, most specifically at the time, testicular cancer.
And thus Movember was born.
Since that time this “Mo”vement has exploded and become a yearly worldwide endeavor. Every year men around the world grow their moustaches to not only raise awareness about testicular and prostate cancer, but to raise money to support men’s mental health.
In 2018, with the help of more than 320,000 “Mo Bros & Mo Sisters” from across 20 countries, Movember raised $74.2 million dollars worldwide. In the US, more than $18 million dollars was raised to support men’s health issues.
Some of those projects include:
- The Ironman Registry – an international collective that helps men with advanced prostate cancer
- The ManVan – a UK based men’s health initiative partnered with Rugby League Cares. They travel around to rugby league fields across the north of England in what they call “the Man Van,” a 38ft American-style motorhome that was converted into a men’s health and wellbeing hub designed to engage men to take charge of their health.
- Breaking the Ice – a Canadian initiative that encourages young hockey players to talk about their mental health
- Farmstrong – a collaboration between the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand and leading rural insurer FMG to help farmers in NZ with their mental health
- The Young Hunters Program – a program that takes at-risk youth in the Inuit Nunangat region of Northern Canada — where suicide rates range from 5-25 times the national average — and pairs them with experienced hunters from their community who teaches traditional Inuit skills and knowledge to live off the land, helping to strengthen the ties to their cultural heritage and community.
Last year I had a goal of raising $2,000 for Movember. When it was all said and done, I raised $1,762 for Movember. And I accomplished that because I had friends, family, and clients who donated directly to Movember; the largest chunk of what I raised came from donating every dollar I made from my monthly workout subscription service, “The Workout Pass.”
But I want to do more this year. So I’m bumping my goal up and attempting to bring in $4,000 for Movember.
Like last year, I’m going to donate every dollar I make off The Workout Pass to Movember. And I don’t want this to sound pitchy because pitching you isn’t the point. Instead, rather than asking you to simply donate your money. I want to give you something on my behalf. That’s how much this means to me.
So, if you want to get 30 days of awesome workouts and donate to a great cause, come grab your Workout Pass.
Of course, you can also donate directly to Movember here. Anything you can give, even five bucks, is appreciated. So far I’ve raised $470 towards my goal, which means I have a lot more to raise over the next 20 days. But I’m confident I’ll hit my end goal.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about where your donation goes, Movember is transparent about where your money goes. 72.9% of all money raised goes towards the projects they fund, many of those I listed above, and they report where those funds are invested on their website.
Listen, 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year. So allow me to end this on a high note.
I don’t know how many other men or women may be out there who feel like their struggles aren’t “that bad.” But being silent about it isn’t something we can afford to do.
Movember has a goal to decrease male suicide worldwide 25% by the year 2030. To accomplish that we first need to remove the veneer of shame around the word help.
That can be accomplished by being open and honest and talking about mental health in a helpful way — not by telling people that doing so is some form of weakness.
Dak Prescott opening up about his struggles may be the catalyst that encourages someone out there to get the help they need.
And to be honest, that’s part of what I’m hoping this post can accomplish today. If I’m going to support and push for increased awareness about mental health, I too need to speak up about my struggles. If one person reads this and feels less alone or simply reaches out for help, then some good has been done.
Yes, asking for help is hard. Doing it takes a lot of strength. And we can make it a little easier by encouraging people to stop seeing help as a “bad” four letter word. We can make it easier for people to speak up or reach out for help by letting them know that asking for help, much less speaking up about their struggles, isn’t a weakness.
And then we need to make sure we have the resources in place to help those who’re suffering and need it most.
As I bring this to a close, I realize I’m asking those of you who have read all of this for help. Not for me. But for those who don’t have insurance or who can’t pay for the mental health care they need.
Success isn’t accomplished alone. It’s a team effort. Dak Prescott has teams of people dedicated to helping him be his best week in and week out. And when it comes to improving the lives of those suffering from mental health issues, it will take more than one person.
As an organization Movember is doing all that they can. I will do what I can to help them improve men’s mental health worldwide by donating money every month.
If you have $5, $10, $20 or whatever to spare this month, please consider donating to Movember and helping provide mental health access for men worldwide.