Doctors, trainers and directors gathered at a summit where the mental health needs of the league was a main focus.
The National Football League has decided to take a closer look at how it can treat mental health issues in the league, according to Sports Illustrated.
Recently the NFL held a Player Health Summit, which was led by Nyaka NiiLampti, a psychologist who is now the vice president of wellness clinical services for the league.
Physicians, trainers and directors of player engagement gathered at the summit with the goal of ensuring that the mental health needs of the 2,000 players in the NFL were being met.
In recent years there have been more mental health resources and regulations added to the NFL, but some players still aren’t aware of the help that’s available. Just as the NFL has emergency protocol set up in the event of player injuries, the goal is to have a strategy for mental health emergencies as well.
While more mental health resources are available to players than ever before, there is still a stigma that keeps some players from seeking help.
Stigma Lives On
As Solomon Thomas of the San Francisco 49ers explains, “Some guys won’t sit at the same lunch table as our team therapist, because they are like, I don’t want anyone to think something is wrong with me… There’s a huge stigma about that. People are still afraid of therapists, still afraid of getting help.”
Thomas lost his older sister to suicide, and has been an active supporter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “I realized what I can say can really help other people, or really help myself, or get a conversation started.”
In the high-pressure world of professional sports, a lot of athletes are also terrified of being cut or traded. “Guys are fighting for their job every day,” Thomas said. “So they don’t want to have anything seen as a disadvantage or a reason to not be the one chosen. ‘Oh, both of them have the same amount of yards and TDs (touchdowns), but he has mental health problems.’ That’s scary to some guys, but it’s something that needs to change.”
Thomas saw a big change in his performance once he started seeking help. “That’s all due to my head clearing up, or being able to freely live… If our brain’s not working, our bodies aren’t going to work.”
Thomas is also hoping the stigma against seeking help will change. “If guys do it more openly, and the culture of mental health changes in the NFL, I think that is going to change a lot. Because it is a very masculine, tough sport. If we start that change, it will echo throughout the whole league and society as well.”