2014-09-13 / News

Students Learn About Mental Health From Former Quarterback Hipple

By Stephanie Fortino


Former Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple (from right) gave a talk about depression and mental health at Mackinac Island Public School Tuesday, September 2. He is pictured with Adrienne Crockette, a speaker and education consultant with the Mental Illness Research Station at the University of Michigan, daughter Tarah Hipple, who spoke and performed a song, and Mackinac Island Superintendent Dave Waaso. Former Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple (from right) gave a talk about depression and mental health at Mackinac Island Public School Tuesday, September 2. He is pictured with Adrienne Crockette, a speaker and education consultant with the Mental Illness Research Station at the University of Michigan, daughter Tarah Hipple, who spoke and performed a song, and Mackinac Island Superintendent Dave Waaso. As part of the first day of school activities Tuesday, September 2, middle school and high school students at Mackinac Island Public School learned symptoms and tips about depression and other mental illnesses from retired Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple. The program is part of the University of Michigan Mental Illness Research Association, which provides free workshops for schools throughout the state.

Mr. Hipple shared his personal story of depression and mental illness, particularly the fallout from the passing of his son, Jeff, who committed suicide. He told the students that during his time in professional football, he learned how to maintain his physical fitness, but never learned the tools to become mentally fit. When his son became depressed, he didn’t understand the warning signs.

“I just didn’t have the knowledge,” he said. “I had a lot of guilt and grief, and a lot of pain is involved when someone you love leaves so quickly.”

After his son’s death, Mr. Hipple sought relief from alcohol and prescription drugs, which eventually landed him in jail for driving while intoxicated. After a struggle, he identified his addictions and sought relief to address his struggles with depression.

“What we don’t know can hurt us,” he said, emphasizing the need for continued awareness and education about depression and other mental illnesses.

His daughter, Tarah, also shared her experiences about the death of her brother. After seeing a new counselor, she was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She eventually worked through her emotions and accepted her repressed memories. She started writing poetry and songs to process what happened. And she and her father have both published books.

An important part of understanding depression and other mental illnesses is helping to remove the stereotypes and stigmas associated with the disorders, according to Adrienne Crockette, a former school principal and education consultant with the Mental Illness Research Station, who also spoke to the students.

“No one chooses to have a brain illness, no one chooses to have depression,” Mrs. Crockette said. “We need to understand that to remove the stigma. They’re not weak.”

She explained that depression is the most common form of mental illness ad noted that one in 10 people, ages 13 to 19, will experience depression or bipolar disorder.

“It can happen to anyone,” she said, “and because it’s so common, it is very important not to feel embarrassed if you are feeling depressed… We should feel no shame in talking about it.”

Some of the most common signs of depression include prolonged sadness or uncontrollable crying, loss of enjoyment in activities, social withdrawal, loss of motivation, unexplained fears or thoughts, changes in appetite or weight, unexplained pains and other physical changes, injuring oneself, such as cutting, sleeping too little or too much, irritability, anger, excessive worry, anxiety, guilt, pessimism, inability to concentrate or make decisions, risky behavior like taking alcohol or other substances for relief, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Mrs. Crockette said if students feel they exhibit six or more of these symptoms, or if they hear of someone talking about suicide, they should talk about it with a trusted adult.

“Depression is a recurring disease,” she said. “Get help early on.”

Depression is caused by “a chemical imbalance in the brain,” she noted, and it may be hereditary, as people with parents who are depressed are three times more likely to suffer from depression.

About 90% of people suffering from depression are successfully treated with therapy, a change in diet, medication, or physical activity, she said.

When getting injured during a football game, “Everybody saw it when it happened,” Mr. Hipple said. “But with mental illness, you can’t see it.”

He encouraged the students to learn more about other mental illnesses, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder.

“You might be able to understand it more, instead of just [saying], ‘Oh they’re weird,’” Mr. Hipple said.

To become mentally fit, he suggested students eliminate stress in their lives.

“Stress is one of the most destructive things,” he told them. “Long-term stress tears us down.”

He suggested students forge relationships, learn to trust others, and work toward a predictable, controllable, and meaningful life to help prevent depression. He also urged them to be empathetic toward others, to communicate about what they’re feeling, and to do productive things to help build self-esteem.

“Let’s not forget our teammates, family, and friends,” he said. “…We are all connected. That’s really important.”

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