It has taken many years for people in football to recognize that concussions were a real issue in football. Now it seems that we have to also look for the after effects of concussions as well. Who knows if efforts to do so will be successful, however, as current programs that provide all manner of support to NFL players are ignored by those same players because it is not in their nature to ask for help.It is harder still for the people who surround football players to know when their colleagues are in trouble, because suicidal ideation is so hard to identify.
People who talk about suicide all the time, who are “loud” about their condition are generally not the ones who are likely to commit suicide. People who make sure that everyone knows that they are depressed and suicidal, and make several self harming gestures are often looking for attention more than anything. It’s usually the people who don’t show any symptoms that are most likely to carry out their plans. They are committed to their plans, and do not want to be disturbed. These people also chose more lethal methods with which to kill themselves, such as firearms or cutting their wrists. This is why most people, when they do such an act, their families and relatives are surprised, that is on purpose. If anyone knew they would try to stop the person. This isn’t to say that the person is always completely silent. The suicidal person may have some previous attempts that were not successful, but not for lack of trying. I remember that I have seen several people who tried very seriously to kill themselves but where stopped because a family member came home unexpectedly, or whatever they used to hang themselves didn’t support their weight. One of the hardest jobs a mental health professional has is determining the seriousness of a suicide attempt.
One of the things I hear the most is that so-and-so had so much to live for and that their life was going so well. There are two problems with that. One the urge to kill oneself more often than not is an irrational impulse, so if the person really was in the correct mindset to write down a list of pros and cons to living, they probably would not be suicidal in the first place. Suicidal depression is a the result in an imbalance in neurotransmitters on some level, which can override normal brain functioning and mood regulation. Secondly, just because someone’s life looks perfect from the outside, does not mean that that is the case. how many times have you yourself been in a situation where everyone around you thought that your life was just peachy, but you felt absolutely miserable on the inside? Furthermore, you felt as if you had to keep up a facade of happiness for the rest of the world to keep your misery a secret? Sometimes the strain of keeping up appearances is enough to drive people to want to end it. Imagine how badly the pressure would mount if, say, you went to a prestigious Ivy League School and you were named Captain of the football team? What if you had doubts about whether you deserved any of that, and you lacked the confidence in yourself to believe that you could maintain the grades or the performance to keep either position? The pressure and strain of trying to hide those fears and insecurities could push someone over the edge.
Owen Thomas hung himself in his off campus apartment in Philadelphia in April of this year. The factors that lead to his decision are numerous. People always try to find a reason for suicides, and the saddest fact is that sometimes there really isn’t a reason. Sometimes it is just an accumulation of circumstances that overwhelms a person’s survival instinct. The current trend is to link brain damage to suicides. The evidence is certainly pointing that way, as several football players who have committed suicide have been found to have some level of brain damage upon their autopsies. Owen Thomas’s brain showed that he had tissue damage normally seen in NFL Veterans. Chris Henry, the Bengal’s receiver who fell out of a moving truck after having an argument with his girlfriend also had this type of brain damage, known as CTE. This type of brain injury can have many effects “Its effects are mainly neurobehavioral. These symptoms include poor decision-making, behavioral problems, failure at personal and business relationships, use of drugs and alcohol, depression and suicide.” (Park 06/02/10) Given those symptoms one could also make a case for Chris Henry’s death being linked to brain damage.
Then there’s the case of Kenny McKinley. Did he have Brain Damage? Did he have too many concussions? Or was he severely depressed that he had just suffered his second season ending injury. Football is a very fickle business, and football was McKinley’s life. What was he to do if football was taken away with him?
We don’t know what can cause someone to commit suicide, but we do know that therapy and treatment can help to stop it. But it is useless if it is not utilized. Football culture discourages asking for help, discourages taking care of yourself; it is a game of self-sacrifice. Young and old men are sacrificing themselves to this game every day, more and more, year after year. Concussions or not, the mindset has to change.
Park, Madison. (06/02/10). “Young player had brain damage more often seen in NFL veterans”
Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/07/02/brain.damage.henry/index.html
John Minus is a noted Bon-Vivant, Raconteur, and all-around Anti-Hero. He has a podcast called the Alter Negro Sho and co-hosts the Non-Productive Podcast. He can be contacted on twitter: www.twitter.com/DonCoyote and by his email JohnMinus@Non-Productive.com