Part 1: Coaches help to #BreakTheStigma around depression and suicide

If you are in crisis

Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

In spite of the inroads made by health organizations and educational groups in the past decade to make the public more aware of mental health issues, suicide remains a serious problem among youth in the United States. A few sobering statistics from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • For youth between the ages of 15 and 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death. In 2013, 4,878 youths in that age group died from suicide. For kids between 10 and 14, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
  • The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearms, suffocation, and poisoning.
  • A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries in emergency rooms.

This month, the women’s basketball community mourns losses from suicide in the aftermath of the deaths of two student-athletes, including a Division I player. However, older adults are also vulnerable to the effects of depression. The CDC also reports that suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for all ages in 2010.

In 2013, longtime women’s basketball official Bonita Spence took her own life. The highly respected referee was 52.

Unfortunately, most people are afraid to voice their feelings about suicide and depression. And when youth do talk about their mental health, they often face adults, including mentors and coaches, who are unsympathetic and engage in victim blaming.

University of Florida assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller is committed to helping lift the shroud of secrecy over this public health issue, from being a role model to student-athletes to speaking out about suicide on social media and her website, May is Mental Health Awareness Month and she is publishing essays about the issue on her blog over the next few weeks. These entries will also be cross posted here on Hoopfeed.

Entry 1

It’s been awhile since my last post and I’ve been receiving lots of interest in getting something out. I’m always one for giving the people what they want so here you go. Except this post wasn’t written by me. And the next couple of posts won’t be written by me. I’ve asked a few friends from the wonderful world of women’s basketball to help me out.

I’ve been rocked by the recent suicides that have stunned our profession and it created wonderful dialogue with some of my peers. We agree that the stigma of depression in athletics, particularly with women, where we try so hard to prove our toughness so as not to be perceived as, well, weak, is killing us. Literally.

During this dialogue, what I’ve discovered is at some point in our lives, we have, or someone close to us, has struggled with depression and we’ve all felt ill equipped to handle it alone. We all have very different, but similar stories, and we all would like to share those stories with the hope that they might resonate with someone…anyone.

I am honored that my peers would agree to use my personal website as an outlet for their voices. In orchestrating this vehicle, I accept that I might turn some people off. However, my goal in life is to be consistent and authentic. And in living a consistently authentic life, I’m going to turn a lot of people off. And that’s fine. I’m not for everyone. And neither is this website. But for those of you that I am for, here you go.

Meet Lindsey…

Dare I say the word depression?

by Lindsey Werntz, Tulane Women’s Basketball

Dare I say the word depression? It is a word that is tainted. It is a word that means you are weak. It is a word that means you are an outcast. It is a word that only underachievers use. Right? Well for me that is not the case. Depression is a word that needs to be explored and talked about. Depression is a word that does not mean you are weak, but possibly lonely. Depression is a word that means you are like more of your some of peers than you could ever imagine. Depression is a word that many successful people have been ignoring or evading, possibly from fear of losing a job. I have been in college athletics as a professional for eleven seasons. I know firsthand what depression is, because it was and still is a part of my life. The time is now to talk about the word DEPRESSION.

Every day I woke up not knowing how I would feel. I did not know if I would be my worst enemy. I did not know if I would remember what happened that day because of the fog that enveloped me. Every day I would look in the mirror and say, “you are a coach, you have to toughen up”. That is what I was taught for so many years. I was told that depression was for the weak. I was told that not everyone could handle working at the Division I level and that it wasn’t depression, but a lack of being tough. Every day I looked at the bottle of meds prescribed to me and wondered if I should just take them all at once.

Putting the word depression into perspective for me came during a dark time in my life. I was battling internal demons. I was going through change. I did not let anyone in on any level more than a surface relationship. I was finding comfort in alcohol because I thought it was my only loyal friend. It kept my secrets and numbed my pain. I was scared to ask for help. I was scared what my peers would think of me. I did not know if I would have a job. Who was I becoming?

The realities of depression need to be talked about. There needs to be a dialogue. There are too many people in this world that do not feel they can talk about depression. I did not feel like I had an outlet. I kept everything to myself, yet I was my own worst enemy. I was not giving myself good advice. When I finally asked for help it was from people that did not understand what I was going through. It seemed as though they did not want to be bothered. They were not empathetic. Bury yourself into your work. It will go away. It did not go away for me

Each day I put one shoe on at a time. I got into my car and I drove to therapy. I made a choice to get help from professionals. I made a choice to make people listen to me because my life did matter. Maybe not to you, but with time it mattered to me. I learned that my life was valuable. I learned that my time on earth was not maxed out yet. I learned that to feel again was to live again.

Someone loves you. You do not feel that when you are depressed. The one person you want to love you more than anyone else is yourself. The one honest relationship you want to have is with yourself. The one person that you want to please is yourself. Some of us need help realizing how to love ourselves, how to please ourselves, and how to have a healthy relationship with ourselves. It is okay to ask for help.

Silence is not the answer. Parents, get to know your children. Get the phones out of their hands at dinner and ask them how was their day. Understand that if your child has a mental health issue, you are not at fault. With love and understanding you can help your child through anything. They are scared. They are lonely. They need you. Coaches, administrators, support staff, and teammates, please be empathetic. To learn about depression and other mental health issues makes you a warrior and an advocate for someone that you love that could take their life simply because they felt like no one would listen to their cries for help. Athletic departments stop hiding behind the curtain because you don’t want to look like your players have “issues”. The reality is, college-aged athletes do have “issues” but you have a chance to stand tall and be heard. Be an athletic department that welcomes ALL athletes and ALL employees who need a safe place to perform.

I am a survivor of a suicide attempt. I am here to live and to talk about it. I am here to let you know that if you are going through something, there are others out there like you. I am here to tell you that it does get better. One day at a time. I am a walking example of how one day at a time it DOES get better. You are not alone. You can get through this. And you can live a life of happiness. One day at a time I will vow to tell my story to anyone that will listen because one more loss is one too many. One day at a time I will continue to give praise because I am still on this earth. One day at a time I will attempt to start a dialogue about the word depression. No longer will I keep it to myself.

Now that the dialogue surrounding depression has been opened, it is time to continue to discuss it. It is time to be empathetic towards those suffering from demons that you will never understand. It is time to ask tough questions and be supportive towards one another. It is time to stop lives from unnecessarily being lost because of depression.

I am currently in a healthy relationship where we talk about our feelings. I have a wonderful job where I get to make a difference with student athletes and peers. I am healthy. I am happy. I am alive. And I choose to talk to you about depression because no one talked to me about depression. It is time to get educated about issues that you might be uncomfortable discussing. It is time to stand up and work towards a positive change.





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