Today I’m conflicted. No, I’m confused. No, I’m sad. No, I’m fucking stoked! No, I’m, I’m, I’m …
Flag on the play. 15-yard penalty for roughing the reader. Repeat first down.
Let’s try this again. Today is the opening Sunday of the NFL season and as a lifelong football fan, this day is usually filled with tremendous joy, catharsis, shit talking, and even shittier beer.
Today is also World Suicide Prevention Day, tomorrow starts National Suicide Prevention Week, and September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
As a nurse practitioner and advocate for better mental health awareness and treatment, my previously concussed conscious is having a hard time remaining a football fan. Maybe former ESPN College Football Analyst Ed Cunningham was on to something when he quit his highly-coveted gig over the dangers of football and brain injury. “… the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.” he recently told the New York Times.
Like the insufferably nauseating reverence bestowed upon the apparently infallible New England Patriots, we’ve all seemed to accept physical injuries as just “part of the game.” But as our collective de-stigmatization and awareness of mental health improves, we are all starting to see the writing on the helmet.
There is an obvious connection between repeated traumatic blows to the brain and a potential increase in neurologic and mental health diseases like dementia, depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Some of these diseases are directly connected to an increased risk of suicide.
As a nurse practitioner I also know that taking research at face value is like playing a soft cover-two defense against Aaron Rodgers. You will look like a fool. In fact, the CDC’s most recent exploration of suicide among retired NFL players found that rates of suicide are half that of the average adult male.
This research only looked at deaths by suicide. There needs to be more research about suicide attempts, depression, neuropsychiatric illnesses, schizophrenia, opioid addiction, dementia, and all the other very well documented links between brain injury and mental health. More importantly, there needs to be more action.
Too many players report mental health issues after they retire. Too many players have sued the NFL over brain injuries. Too many players are quitting the game in the prime of their career because of concussions and fears of lifeline neurologic damage.
Just like the Cleveland Brown’s not knowing who their franchise quarterback will be (no, Deshone Kizer having one good game does not answer that question) I don’t have the solution to this problem. No one does. Yet.
But it’s time to throw the red challenge flag on the NFL and all levels of football. Mental health and neurologic illness are unquestionable a part of the game. It’s up the NFL, players, AND us fans to advance the conversation or players will continue to face the deadly consequences of inaction.
“Are you ready for some football?” I don’t know racist Hank Williams Jr., I just don’t know.
For more information of how you can (and you really CAN!) help prevent suicide, check out the links below. If you are worried that someone you know might be considering suicide, please ACT! It’s better to have a pissed off friend than a dead one.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK)