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There’s little need for us to pile on Fox Sports host Skip Bayless for his unnecessary roughness against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Bayless has been met with plenty of deserved pushback, including from his own network, for criticizing Prescott for going public about struggling with depression. We won’t spend much more time on how wrong Bayless was, but we cannot overstate how important it was for Prescott to speak out and cut through some of the stigma involving mental health issues.
In a recent emotional interview with journalist Graham Bensinger, Prescott explained how he has experienced depression during the coronavirus pandemic, both before and following his brother Jace’s suicide in April.
“All throughout this quarantine and this offseason, I started experiencing emotions I’ve never felt before — anxiety for the main one,” Prescott said. “And then, honestly a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression. Didn’t know necessarily what I was going through, to say the least. And hadn’t been sleeping at all.”
After receiving “some of the worst news I’ll ever get” about his brother’s death, Prescott said he met the news with “tears, and tears and tears.” Prescott then reflected on the burdens he said his brother was carrying.
“It showed me how vulnerable we have to be as humans, how open we have to be, because our adversity, our struggles, what we go through, [are] always going to be too much for ourselves,” Prescott said. “And maybe too much for one or two people, but never too much for a community, or never too much for the people and the family that you love. So we have to share those things.”
To hear a quarterback in the NFL, where strength and toughness are virtues, be this vulnerable is both significant and inspiring. Depression and other mental health conditions can affect anyone, even millionaire athletes. Prescott has demonstrated that talking about these problems isn’t a weakness, it’s a necessity.
The timing of Prescott discussing his struggles and his brother’s struggles is also significant. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), this month is “a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic.”
The U.S. has seen a troubling rise in suicides, even before the stresses of a global pandemic, and a critical part of addressing that trend is reducing the stigma around mental health conditions and helping people get the counseling they need.
“Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background,” according to the NAMI website, which has information about numerous crisis and awareness resources. “In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues.”
Prescott has largely been lauded, not criticized, for his role in bringing awareness and breaking through stigma around this issue. And that’s how it should be.
“When you have thoughts that you’ve never had, I think that’s more so than anything a chance to realize it and recognize it, to be vulnerable about it,” Prescott told ESPN.
“Mental health is a huge issue and a real thing in our world right now,” he emphasized. “I think it’s huge to talk. I think it’s huge to get help. And it saves lives.”
As Prescott has acknowledged, the isolation and stress that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic can have a serious impact on people’s mental health. No matter what people are going though, we hope they, like Prescott, will realize that it is not a weakness to talk about it and to reach out for help.