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The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 6.9% of Americans deal with depression each year. With depression so prevalent in our society, it shouldn’t be surprising that even professional athletes have to battle it.
Like the rest of us, athletes have to overcome the pain of mental illness to show up for work and attempt to be their best.
Proving that you’re not the only one, here is a list of athletes who have depression or who have dealt with depression in the past. Please know that this list is in no way exhaustive. I’ve narrowed it down a bit in the interest of brevity, but there are many athletes, celebrities, world leaders, and historical figures with depression. So please be encouraged knowing that you are not alone. Not by a long shot.
Let’s dive into the list.
Most people know who Terry Bradshaw is, but many may not know that he has had depression since he first entered the NFL. Officially diagnosed in 1999, Terry now takes medication to balance everything out.
“Shoot, the football was the easy part. I could concentrate for three hours, and the games were an escape. It was the rest of my life that was going to hell in a hand-basket.”
Pitcher Zack Greinke missed most of the 2006 season while being treated for depression along with social anxiety and anger problems.
His very public exit paved the way for other athletes to come forward with their mental illnesses.
A long and difficult recovery put Picabo into a dark depression. She spent a very long period locked in her room with the blinds shut avoiding the phone and television. All she could do was think miserable thoughts.
“I went all the way to rock bottom. I never thought that I ever would experience anything like that in my life.”
Many know of golfer John Daly’s notorious lifestyle. However, much of it comes from his mental illness. John opened up about his depression and other struggles in his book, “My Life in and out of the Rough.”
In 2009, relief-pitcher Scott Schoeneweis spent time on the team’s disabled list due to his depression. Proving that athletes can be forced to take a break from their jobs too.
People think a championship trophy (and the money and fame that comes with it) should be enough to make someone happy. Not with depression.
Just a few nights after the Devils won the Stanley Cup, Stéphane turned the headlights off on his Porsche and sped around a sharp curve trying to kill himself.
Thankfully he survived and now shares his struggle openly. Stéphane participates in anti-stigma events for mental health and works to spread the word about depression.
“I wish when I was 20 or 21 I could have had someone from hockey or baseball or football talking about this … maybe it could have helped. But at the time that wasn’t big, right? If I can help someone, maybe save somebody’s life … I’m doing my job.”
Like the rest of us, first baseman Joey Votto had to come to terms with his depression. After his father passed away, Joey bottled up the emotions that ultimately lead to his depression and anxiety (including panic attacks on the road).
He eventually had to take a break to sort things out, which is an especially public thing in his line of work.
Swimmer Greg Louganis has had many things to overcome and depression was part of the equation.
Greg opened up about his depression in his best-selling autobiography, “Breaking the Surface.”
Despite a successful (and historic) career, Jerry has battled depression since childhood. He admittedly keeps people at arm’s length, and many know him to be very moody. His wife has even mentioned him not speaking for days.
“I would go to bed feeling like I didn’t even want to live.”
My personal favorite on the list, ultra-runner Rob Krar has been very open about his depression. He was stubborn to accept it at first and wrote his initial episodes off as stress.
Despite his attempts to fight it he often finds himself crawling back in bed because of the pain. As you can imagine, this interrupts his training and work schedule.
Rob’s battle with depression is the focus of this beautiful video. Check it out.
Diagnosed with clinical depression by a team psychologist, pitcher Justin Duchscherer has been forced to juggle a tough career with his illness.
“You learn to live with it. You’re never happy.”
He notes that he can even pitch a shutout and then feel nothing but depression.
One time it almost ended his pitching career, and it took him years to work past his issues, but Bill hasn’t given up on himself. In fact, he’s grown from it and learned what real strength is.
“It’s taken me all of the eight years since to figure that out. I’ve spent all that time learning the hard way that I am one of the thousands, probably millions, of Americans who live with clinical depression and/or anxiety. I’ve learned that using a prescription such as Prozac or Paxil is not a sign of weakness, but of self-understanding and strength.”
Serena Williams is another household name on the list, but her successful career wasn’t enough to keep her out of the hole of depression.
A long injury lay-off put Serena in a deep depression she would have to overcome.
“I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around.”
Theo is among the 1 in 5 Canadians who suffer from depression. His illness drove him right to the edge. A true hero, he fought back and now speaks out about his depression hoping it helps save others.
“If you are struggling, it’s OK to reach out … I had a gun in my mouth because I was too stubborn to ask for help.”
Branded as “crazy” by a stigma scared NBA, Delonte struggles with mental illness. His illness has kept him off the basketball court and has even gotten him in trouble with the law.
As tough as we all know Ronda is, depression still got to her early in her career. A lack of goals and nothing to drive her are what pushed her into a depression.
She didn’t give up on herself and searched for a way out. MMA ultimately helped her recover from it.
Whether you’re in a fight for the Stanley Cup or just mustering up the motivation to shower, depression is there, and it is real. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
Many people go on to live successful lives despite their illnesses. At times, it feels like an uphill battle you can’t win but that’s just the illness talking. Don’t listen to it. Never trust it.
You don’t have to give up. You can live with your illness and even thrive despite it. These pros prove that you can do it. They model what it’s like to keep moving forward.