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The Detroit Lions are moving in the right direction on mental health care

The Lions hired a mental health specialist this offseason, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Last month, the Detroit Lions announced the creation of a new player wellness department. Along with that announcement came the hire of mental health specialist Dr. Michelle Garvin. This move is a great step in the right direction on trying to help players cope with mental health issues. Today I want to talk about why this helps and how the Detroit Lions are getting on the progressive side of a very important issue.

If you’ve been following me over the last six years that I’ve been covering the Detroit Lions, you know that mental health is very important to me. That’s why in 2019 we worked with current and former Lions to talk about how they cope with mental health while also being a pro athlete. We learned a lot. One of the troubling things we learned was that some of the stigmas about mental health were still in effect. This led to many players keeping their issues to themselves.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell spoke on Wednesday about that very issue, why the team created the Wellness Department, and how coaches and executives are starting to realize they need to help provide mental wellness to their players.

“Every year were a little more in tune to this,” Campbell said. “So much of the way that particularly football players have been raised and everything about the sport is that you show no weakness. For forever, not knowing what it was or wasn’t, when you had a mental issue, it was you’re weak. So you don’t say anything, but yet if you just got a little bit of help and had the right resources around you, you could live up to your potential and then some. I think there has been so much more that’s come to life on this.”

You love to hear this. We need to talk about our issues instead of keep them pent up inside. The Lions appear to be able to see that. Campbell says that’s why they brought Dr. Garvin on.

“We thought it was important to have an outlet,” Campbell said. “Somebody they can talk to. Somebody that understands everything as it deals with that. And also it deals with sports psychology. Because it is. It makes a difference and I kind of brought this up in my intro, but sometimes you never know what’s going on, and it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, he’s not right. You can’t count on the guy.’

“But there’s always a reason why. Some of it is physical, some of it pertains to just not getting the playbook. But what about the issues that are deeper than that that we need to get to? What’s going on at home? Did somebody come back into his life that was not good for him? There’s just so many things that come into play. We felt like that was important to address that and have a resource on staff that can help with that. We’re all about top to bottom. Not only the athlete and making them a better football player, but most of that is between the ears. How do we help them with that? That is a credit to (general manager) Brad (Holmes) too. That was one of the things he really wanted to attack this offseason.”

This is invaluable to team building, and it’s imperative to keeping your players happy and healthy. There’s a feeling that the Lions are making the organization a players-first organization. When you come to Detroit, you’re going to get a coaching staff who’s played the game and understands how to coach athletes. You’re going to get a coach who’s going to do 40 up-downs with you on the opening day of camp, a staff and front office that promotes fun, and most importantly, an organization that cares not just about your physical well being, but your psychological well being as well.

This makes for a happy roster that trusts their coaching staff and buys into the culture. That doesn't necessarily translate to immediate wins, but it can translate to players sticking around and it can contribute to players wanting to play for Detroit because they know they’ll be cared about and taken care of.

Campbell said Garvin will not just be there for show. Players will be able to seek her out and she will have access to the players. That’s an important point. Players can feel comfortable knowing that the help is there if they want or need it. It’s not just a passive situation, either. In fact, she has already spoken to the entire team.

“She spoke last night. She will be on-site,” Campbell explained. “Everything she’s doing, she’s trying to get to know the guys a little bit, introduce herself, gain a little trust. It’s not like she is going to be, ‘OK, I’m just back here in this room and I’m not going to come out here.’ It’s not like that at all. She’s got access to our players.”

There is still plenty of work to be done on this front, but the Lions are moving in the right direction, and if the team—and league—continue to move this way, they can help create more healthy and safe environment for athletes to ply their craft.

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