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Intermountain Health CEO, NFL players tackle issue of mental health

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 18, 2024

Adam Hunger, Associated Press

New York Jets defensive end Solomon Thomas (94) smiles after an NFL football game against the Houston Texans on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Everyone should talk about their feelings — even big, strong football players.

And that’s exactly what happened this week.

Intermountain Health CEO Rob Allen along with several current and former NFL players spoke at “The Strongest Play is Asking For Help” panel discussion event in Las Vegas this week, highlighting the mental health crisis affecting millions of Americans. He even went as far as to call it an “epidemic.”

The panel discussion included the New York Jets’ Solomon Thomas, co-founder of The Defensive Line; Brandon Bolden, formerly of the Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots; Darren Waller of the New York Giants; retired NFL player Carl Nassib; Alec Ingold of the Miami Dolphins; Cedric Tillman with the Cleveland Browns; and retired NFL player Marcus Smith.

These current and former athletes spoke to a diverse audience that included city and community leaders and youth from the Clark County School District. All of the participating athletes work off the football field, advocating for community health causes important to them personally, such as equity, suicide prevention and other issues that need tackling, especially mental illness.

“I am really grateful for the community collaborators, partners and influential athletes who would give of their time and resources and their abilities to raise awareness of mental well-being and suicide prevention,” Allen said.

Thomas said strength is allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

“We have been defined as men that we have to be tough and that we define strength in the entirely wrong way,” he said. “But through my journey of grief, my own mental health journey and everything I have been in, I have learned that being tough is not strength. Strength is vulnerable.”

Waller, who has suffered with substance use and alcohol disorders, turned his life and mental state around and talked about the importance of seeking help.

“For me, it was getting honest and saying, ‘I don’t have all of this figured out,'” he said. “We have physical skills and we have mental skills. But as far as emotionally, we don’t necessarily have that, and we need to teach younger generations that skill.”

Throughout the month of May, Intermountain Health will be sharing more content from the panel, while continuing to engage in mental health conversations in its communities.

“Money and status doesn’t equate to happiness,” Nassib said.

Tillman said everyone has their issues and it’s important to talk about them.

“Just because I play on TV doesn’t mean I don’t go through stuff,” he said. “It’s important for everybody to talk about it and bring awareness to it.”

According to The Defensive Line, suicide ideation risk for Black females rose 182% between 2001-2017. Black men also have an increased risk, with 80% of suicides among that population being male. The highest number of those men are in their early 20s. The Defensive Line was founded by Thomas after his sister, Ella, died by suicide in 2018.

At the end of the discussion, the players participated in a service project, creating 1,000 Find Your Anchor boxes that were packed with various mental health materials and resource information.

Since 2019, Intermountain Health has distributed nearly 67,000 free gun locks and trained over 57,000 people on Counseling on Access to Lethal Means, an organization dedicated to zero suicides.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the suicide hotline at 988.

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