INDIANAPOLIS — On the field, professional football players are America’s gladiators, taking the hits over and over again.
On Monday, a group of NFL players from around the league, including the Colts' Darius Leonard, talked about what it feels like to have a panic attack.
“It’s OK to not be OK, but you got to find a way to fight through it, to find a way to get some help,” said Leonard.
Monday’s virtual discussion, hosted by Carson Daly of NBC's The Voice and the TODAY Show, kicked off Mental Health Awareness Month.
Daly talked about his own struggles with anxiety.
“I’m one of the tens of millions of people that have suffered in silence with mental health,” said Daly, who talked about having a panic attack once during a live broadcast he was hosting.
The roundtable was part of week-long virtual fundraiser to support non-profits so they can expand mental health services throughout the community.
It’s all part of an initiative called “Kicking the Stigma” started by the Indianapolis Colts and team's owners, the Irsay family. Its aim is to raise awareness about mental health disorders and take away the stigma that often goes along with them.
“It really takes all of us working together to create real change in the mental health space,” said Colts vice chair and owner Kalen Jackson.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, millions of people in the US are affected by mental health issues every year. By NAMI’s count, 1 in 5 adults in the United States deal with some sort of mental health disorder each year. 1 in 20 deal with a serious mental illness, and nearly half of the people who die by suicide each year were living with a diagnosed mental health condition.
“The biggest thing we can do is talk and be vulnerable,” said Raiders' defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, whose sister died by suicide. “When I speak, I talk about the power of vulnerability because that’s when you connect with someone."
Hayden Hurst with the Atlanta Falcons talked about living with depression and attempting suicide while in college.
“I promise you, mental health affects everybody on this planet in some way, shape or form. It does not discriminate. It doesn’t care your gender, your age or what race you are,” said Hurst. “It does not discriminate, it affects us all.”
Raiders tight end Darren Waller talked about his struggle with substance abuse issues and going into rehab to get help.
“In my darkest days, I felt like I always had to please people,” Waller said. “I had to go to some external source to make me feel better, whether it was a bottle or some drugs or to women. I didn’t realize it could start within me.”
The message from all of these players who’ve been there is that it’s OK to ask for help.
“I just feel like the more you talk about it, the more free that you can be,” said Leonard.