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Junior Seau and depression in the NFL

May 8, 2012
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, 43, died last week from an apparent suicide. Reactions in the media and throughout the NFL have ranged from shock to complete disbelief.

Just two days earlier, Seau spent over five hours on the golf course, reportedly “laughing, joking and taking pictures” at a charity event. Interviews with friends and former teammates show a level of surprise that suggests few really understood his true mental state.

Over the last several days, some have tried to put the tragic events in the context of helping people going through similar struggles.

For example, Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who announced in 2011 he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and has since become something of a mental health advocate, wrote about Seau's death in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times.

In his piece, titled "Let’s use Junior Seau tragedy as opportunity to learn," Marshall wrote that he believes his decision to seek treatment probably saved his life, saying he "got help before it was too late.”

"There are many people out there who are suffering and have nowhere to turn for help," he wrote. "Or, they are afraid because of the stigmas placed on mental health."

A reporter from the Chicago Tribune noted the possibility that Seau may have developed a brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) during his 19 seasons in the NFL, contributing to his belief that suicide was the "only option."

Marshall also touched on the idea, crediting professionals for the research currently being done on brain injuries and head trauma in retired athletes. But he also pointed out that CTE can't be recognized until an autopsy is performed.

“We can, however, start today by treating the living,” Marshall wrote, referring to the treatments that have helped him, including metallization and dialectical behavior therapy.

As others try to make sense of Seau's untimely death, is there anything the mental health field can learn from it? Do these tragedies shed any light on the stigma of mental illness, which all too often prevents treatment from ever being sought?

Here's hoping someone learns something from this loss.

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Comments

I'll try to comment more in an upcoming blog on suicide prevention, but thanks so much for the early attention. I'm so glad Mr. Marshall is responding, which early justifies our attention to him on past blogs.

Maybe this time around we will do better. Just a year earlier, another famous football player, Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears,
shot himself also. That did not make much difference for Mr. Seau, unfortunately.

Steve Moffic, M.D.

Nick Zubko

Associate Editor

Nick Zubko

@BH_Zubko

www.behavioral.net

Nick Zubko is associate editor of Behavioral Healthcare.