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Mental health in the NFL, Part 2: Is the league doing enough?

One NFL player thinks the league should be doing more, so we delve into what resources the players have.

Wednesday we spoke with Detroit Lions linebacker Eli Harold about how masculinity can have a lot of bad effects on men dealing with mental health. We also learned that he believes the stigmas regarding mental health in the NFL are largely gone. Today we’ll talk with Lions defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois about why he feels differently, and what you can do to help those dealing with mental health issues, even if you don’t have them.

The mental health community doesn’t require that you have a disorder to help. You can be a regular Joe — or, say, a member of the military or an NFL player — to aid those with mental health disorders.

That’s what Lions defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois and his sister Major Villiana Jean Francois are doing. Ricky went to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia this past summer to talk with current and former military members about mental health and suicide prevention. While there, he also filmed a PSA that aired on the Armed Forces Network during Super Bowl LIII.

“I knew how important it was in the NFL, because we talk about it all the time with CTE and so many other things,” Francois said. “But just to see it from the outside from military to everyday people, it was crazy just to know what other people go through everyday.”

Outside of his work with the armed forces, Francois speaks with others who cope with mental health disorders everyday. He makes sure to keep in contact with some of them, and takes pleasure in seeing them get better every day.

Francois has a different opinion on how the NFL handles mental health than Harold, however. He doesn’t believe the league is taking mental health seriously enough. “The Lions probably are, but I believe the NFL—and I ain’t trying to take no stab at them—I don’t really believe they’re working with mental health,” Francois said.

“There’s just been so many players we done had throughout our career that we’ve seen gone like Junior Seau. I could go down the list of other people, but it’s like that health never came. You never sat there and tried to help them.

“Just because you think think they had the fame, the Pro Bowls, the All Pros, you think they’re good and successful. But, at the same time, they live normal lives just like you and me. Once they leave these symbols, these logos alone, now that you’re outside the building you have to deal with who you really are. And I don’t believe the NFL takes that next step to have somebody willing to sit there and help you and communicate with you.”

According to Francois, the Lions have multiple mental health professionals on staff to assist players and listen to them. Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, those professionals requested to not discuss specifics with me.

Ricky is not alone in this. While the NFL did not give us any answers on how they deal with current players with mental health, the NFLPA did. The association’s communications manager Brandon Parker showed the NFLPA’s new mental health campaign Your Mind, Your Body, Your Health.

Formed in May 2017, the campaign is designed to promote overall wellness among both current and former NFL players. Perhaps the biggest thing the campaign does is open up the conversation and debunk many of the myths and stigmas that are often attached to mental health disorders.

Much like we discussed in the first part of this series, stigmas play a big role in the mental health conversation. The idea that having a mental health issues is a weakness is still something that some feel today. The stigmas have been strong for a long time around the league, strong enough to make players keep things to themselves. The campaign’s goal is to help explain mental health disorders and deconstruct every single stigma and myth one by one.

The campaign also provides players with many resources to get help. Not only does the NFLPA offer their own NFL Lifeline hotline where players can call and discuss what they’re feeling, they also provide the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and direct players to major mental health programs like Active Minds, an online organization that assists current and former students in coping with their mental health issues.

Part 3 delves into mental health issues for athletes after their football careers are over. Read it here.

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