GREEN BAY, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) –– An NFL player is using his platform to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Solomon Thomas is teaming up with Wisconsin-based Rogers Behavioral Health. The group is trying to encourage everyone to feel comfortable talking about their mental struggles.
It’s personal for Thomas, whose sister Ella died by suicide two years ago at the age of 24.
“Ella was my best friend, my protector, my person,” Thomas says. “She was my everything.”
Thomas says he spiraled into his own deep depression following his sister’s death.
Now he’s helping others as an ambassador for a campaign called, “End Stigma, Change Lives.” It has a goal to make mental health easier to talk about, and to make people more comfortable reaching out for help.
“I’ve learned that we still live in this toxic masculinity way of mental health – to be tough, to be strong, you know, ‘Just tough things out. You’re going to be okay,’” Thomas says. “I realized that’s so wrong. That’s not being tough. That’s not being strong. Being strong is to be vulnerable.”
The coronavirus pandemic is leading to mental health issues. In June, the CDC asked nearly 10,000 American adults about their mental health. Nearly a third of respondents said COVID-19 had made them depressed or anxious. More than 11 percent reported the stress of the pandemic made them seriously consider suicide.
“Right now with COVID we know that there are more people experiencing anxiety, depression, having suicidal thoughts, and for some people it’s the first time in their life that they’ve experienced this themselves,” says Sue McKenzie Dicks, vice president of healthy culture at Rogers Behavioral Health.
Dr. Jerry Halverson says there’s power in hearing from people with the influence and platform Thomas has.
“I think the conversations are important,” Dr. Halverson says. “Just having the conversations; just being able to have that conversation with your friends and family is the key.”