Discussions surrounding mental health have become more prevalent in the last year as athletes such as DeMar Derozan, Kevin Love, and most recently, Brian Dawkins, have all spoken up about their battles with depression and mental illness. Today, former Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith Sr. added his voice to the conversation in a column penned for NFL.com.
Smith begins by stating that depression is too often “shut behind closed doors” particularly in a sport like football that demands an almost warrior-like, tough-guy mentality on a year-round basis. Then, he goes on to say that he had his first sessions with a sports psychologist in 2002 but he never truly reckoned with his feelings of depression until after his playing career ended in 2016.
“Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior and alone. This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically and emotionally broken.”
The 39-year-old Smith specifically mentions the 2003 NFC Championship Game which the Panther won over the Eagles 14-3 as one of those moments in which he should have felt elated, but didn’t. He says that he was more mad about the offense’s inability to effectively throw the ball in the game and, because of that, he didn’t even hold the conference championship trophy.
“Generally, throughout much of my life, unhappiness, constant self-criticism and an inability to let old blunders go weighed so heavily on my mind. I can recall hundreds of these moments, on and off the gridiron, when I felt inept. It really took a toll on my mental state.”
Smith says he has begun to feel freer since starting to regularly attend counseling sessions in 2014, when he began his first year in Baltimore. But, he notes that his battle isn’t over and he continues to learn through getting professional help, how to better cope with and understand what he’s feeling. Smith ends his piece noting that he used to ask “What’s wrong with me?” Now, he realizes that there’s nothing wrong with himself or anyone else who suffers from mental illness, saying that everyone has strengths and weaknesses physically and mentally, before ending with words of advice to others who suffer from depression or mental illness.
My advice to anyone suffering from mental health issues — and specifically athletes who can relate — is this: Ask for help. Stop trying to deal with these serious matters alone. You’re not alone. Believe me.