I recently had the great pleasure of talking with Nathan Braaten. A collegiate soccer player and the co-founder of the #DamWorthIt campaign at my alma mater, Oregon State University, Nathan is on a mission. A mission to destigmatize mental illness and to provide mental health resources for student athletes throughout the country. Click here to listen to his story.
As I highlighted in a previous blog, the mental and emotional needs of athletes often take a backseat to a win first culture. As fans, we’re duped into believing that college athletes are living the dream. While their social media profiles may be full of smiles and swag, the private person behind the public profile is often struggling with internal angst. Sadly, pride often prevents them from exposing this struggle.
Perhaps the most well-known of the aforementioned private struggles are depression and anxiety. Unlike other mental illnesses, these two can easily be suppressed, making it difficult for others to recognize anything abnormal. Because athletes are often in the public eye, it makes sense that they’d do anything possible to avoid being found out.
As someone who works with athletes in an effort to destigmatize mental health, I want to let you in on a little secret. I too have dealt with seasons of depression and anxiety.
In an effort to bring awareness to this often misunderstood mental illness, I’d like to share 7 common myths of depression. Whether you’re an athlete or not, I hope these speak to you.
Myth #1: If you’re depressed, something must be wrong with you.
Let me be clear. There’s nothing inherently wrong with you. You didn’t get a bad brain or were dealt a bad hand. There are countless reasons why depression occurs. Some are situational (e.g. broken relationship) and some are a result of unhealed emotional traumas from the past.
Myth #2: If you’re depressed, you just need to suck it up and deal with it.
The world will tell you to suck it up and to deal with it. After all, if you’re mentally tough, you should be able to will your way to the other side. Sadly, most people who prescribe to this belief have never experienced the emotional roller coaster that is depression. In fact, sucking it up only exacerbates the problem. It’s a short-term fix to a longer-term problem. Mental toughness has nothing to do with sucking it up. That’s called will power. If you’re mentally tough, you’ll actually do the thing that’s perceived to be weak – look at your emotions.
Myth #3: If you’re depressed, just think positive.
If this were the case, we’d all be able to think our way out of depression. As you may know, depression includes quite a heavy dose of irrational thoughts and feelings. Asking “Why am I feeling this way?” or “When will this go away?” will actually fuel your desire to fix it. Depression isn’t something you fix with positive thinking. It’s something you heal, and healing requires a commitment to look in, not out.
Myth #4: If you’re depressed, just get on medication and you’ll be fine.
Depression is not JUST a psychological problem that requires medication. Sure medication is warranted in various circumstances, but the healing process should be a holistic (whole person) approach. There’s a physical component (diet and exercise), a spiritual component (growing in faith), a mental component (managing thoughts), and an emotional component (managing emotions).
Myth #5: If you’re depressed, you’ll likely be depressed for the rest of your life.
Believe it or not, depression and/or anxiety can actually happen for you. I can say with absolute certainty that the work I do today and the number of people I’ve been able to reach with my message of emotional intelligence and mental toughness is largely influenced by my seasons of depression. When someone says to me, “I’m struggling,” I can genuinely say, “I’ve been in your shoes.”
Myth #6: Going to see a counselor is a sign of weakness.
You can only wear the tough guy, superhero mask for so long. Whatever is repressed will eventually get expressed. Whatever isn’t talked about will eventually be acted out. Contrary to what the world might tell you, going to a counselor is NOT a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength. A strength that requires vulnerability and authenticity. Two character traits that are often buried in favor of false pride and acting.
Myth #7: Depression is just a part of who you are.
Depression is NOT who you are. You are a precious child of God and your identity should always rest in Him. For years, I wrestled with the notion that “I was depressed.” I used it as a means of sabotaging success. Today, I realize that while I’ve experienced seasons of depression, it will never define me. It will only refine me.
Remember, you are Dam Worth It.